Fashion-conscious Illini hit the ice


Elisabeth Neely

David Heflin stretches out across the goal as a shot from McKendree is heading toward him at the University of Illinois Ice Arena on Oct. 13. Illinois beat McKendree 4-2.

By Cole Henke

There are three things that members of the Illinois men’s hockey team can control: skates, stick and bubble or cage.

For the casual onlooker, the differences may be minor, but it does matter.

“I’ve never worn a bubble,” said senior captain Joey Ritondale. “I kinda feel enclosed and claustrophobic.”

In junior hockey, players had a choice between half visors like the ones in the NHL and cages. However, at Illinois, the American Collegiate Hockey Association doesn’t allow for half visors, so players go to the full transparent ‘bubble’ helmets.

“I couldn’t get used to the bars in front of my eyes again,” said junior Tyler Opilka. “It seemed like the easiest option, the best of both worlds.”

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However, there’s a reason the bubble isn’t the most used helmet on the team. Opilka said it fogs up depending on the temperatures, and it scratches with big collisions.

It also comes with a bit of a stigma.

“The way I played wasn’t conducive to playing scratch free,” said former Illini player and current head coach Nick Fabbrini.

“I feel like guys that wear a bubble are skill guys and playmakers, the more rugged and defensive guys wear the cage,” Ritondale said. “More old fashioned.”

There may be some truth to the stereotype, with three of the Illini’s top four point-scorers wearing the bubble, including its two leading goal-scorers.

Beyond the helmet, hockey fashion is limited to skates and sticks, which according to senior Eric Cruickshank is more substance than style.

“I like to do what works,” Cruickshank said. “I’ve never tried to be flashy, and I’ll stick to that.”

Senior James McGing said stick tape goes beyond practicality, and that “you can’t not use tape.”

However, there is still some wiggle room for those more fashion minded.

“Growing up you put yourself after guys you watch in the NHL,” Ritondale said. “What they wear and what sticks they use.”

Ritondale styled himself after former Blackhawks defender Niklas Hjalmarsson, while McGing styled himself after a poster of Patrick Kane that hung in the rink he grew up playing in.

“I used to (hold my stick) identical, like I could tell which side of the stick he started at, and the puck marks on it like he did,” McGing said.

So who’s the most fashion-sensed group?

“The goalies,” Ritondale said. “We’ve got some good pads on the team.”

Those pads he’s referring to are likely the bright orange ones senior goalie David Heflin wears.

Goalie fashion isn’t just the pads, as many goalies wear customized helmets.

Heflin got his helmet done by a friend in Minnesota before his freshman year, and he liked it enough to stick with it.

“My favorite part is the Illiniwek chief on the side, it’s got that historic feeling to it, and it’s something that sticks out,” Heflin said

Heflin said he has the best fashion sense out of anyone one the team, with Ritondale taking second place “far, far behind.”


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