Illinois hockey will honor seniors in last home game

Illinois%E2%80%99+Jonathan+Langan+follows+the+puck+after+Ohio%E2%80%99s+Michael+Harris+pass+it+during+the+CSCHL+Playoffs+semi-finals+v.+Ohio+University+at+the+Ice+Arena+on+Saturday.

Illinois’ Jonathan Langan follows the puck after Ohio’s Michael Harris pass it during the CSCHL Playoffs semi-finals v. Ohio University at the Ice Arena on Saturday.

By Daniel Dexter

When senior Illini hockey player Jonathan Langan separated his shoulder the summer before his freshman year, he didn’t realize that it would end up being a blessing in disguise.

After the injury, Langan decided he should forgo playing junior hockey in the NAHL and instead attend Illinois, where he had been recruited by former head coach Chad Castle. Now four years later, Langan and his fellow seniors, who stuck through the grind of club hockey, will be honored in front of the home crowd in their last games in the Illinois Ice Arena this weekend.

Along with Langan, the team will recognize Kyle Varzino, Will Nunez, Josh Baker, Jacob Matyisiak, Mario Pacheco and Ricky Di Legge Kokoszka.

Head coach Nick Fabbrini said this senior class stood out to him because of the vocal leadership it provided in the locker room and the sacrifices it made on the ice.

“All of them throw their bodies around to block shots, and that doesn’t go unnoticed by their teammates,” Fabbrini said. “We are lucky to have them and we are definitely going to miss them when they are gone next year.”

For Baker, playing at Illinois meant an opportunity to continue his hockey career and enjoy all the benefits a Big Ten school has to offer. He joined the team as a sophomore, and since then has been elevated to assistant captain, a position he shares with Langan.

Baker and Langan are unique in that they are both true seniors in a locker room made up of older players, who chose to play junior hockey before coming in as freshmen.

Langan said that being one of the few 18-year-olds on the team when he was a freshman helped him grow up quickly, but he hardly ever noticed the age difference. And even though he still isn’t one of the oldest guys on the team, he believes his teammates recognized his long-term commitment to the program when they named him a captain.

“It’s a different animal being a captain to guys that are older than you,” Langan said. “I think that what I bring to the table is experience in the league compared to all these other guys. It was a team vote and for those guys to pick me, it says a lot about the character on our team that guys are looking up to experience rather than age.”

Fabbrini said the commitment the seniors made to the team for their entire college careers shows how much they loved the sport because of how much the players have to sacrifice to be a part of a club team. Since the team is technically a registered student organization, the players do not receive the same benefits as NCAA athletes like being able to schedule classes around practices and having to pay to play for the team.

Baker said that despite the lack of perks, he and his teammates play the game because it is something they have been doing for almost their entire lives and fan attendance has helped keep the costs down.

“Hockey before, when I was playing juniors, was very expensive. It’s about a sixth of the cost to play here,” Baker said. “It’s definitely worth it to play at Illinois over other schools in our division that don’t get the rowdy crowds of 1,500 people at the games.”

The crowds do more than just help with players’ expenses; they will also be the aspect of playing hockey that the seniors will miss the most. Langan feels fortunate to have played at Illinois because few club teams offer the competitive atmosphere of the “Big Pond.”

“Every bit of the hardship is worth it because playing at home on Friday and Saturday nights in front of the crowd that we get is well worth it,” Langan said. “It’s what we play for.”

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