Nick Fabbrini’s hockey journey will take him to Krasnoyarsk, Russia as an assistant coach of the U.S. Men’s National University Team at the Winter World University Games (March 2-12).
Previously, he served as an assistant on the same team at the same event, only in Kazakhstan. You know, the country made quasi-famous by the 2006 film, Borat.
A lesser-known fact about Fabbrini is that his love of sports began on the Garfield School playground in Forest Park.
“I grew up playing all kinds of sports at the Garfield School playground,” said Fabbrini, a Forest Park native. “All the kids in the neighborhood got together. Depending on the season and what the weather allowed, we played baseball, football, soccer and roller hockey.”
Roller hockey sowed the seeds of love for ice hockey, aided by a pair of buddies down the street.
“I was really lucky that a couple of kids down the block, Matt and Tom Montes, were into hockey,” Fabbrini said. “Matt played Division I hockey and both of them really knew the sport. I fell in love with it. I started watching hockey on TV and reading books about it. I quickly became a hockey junkie.”
A few years later, Fabbrini’s addiction worked to Fenwick High School hockey’s benefit. After stints playing in the Franklin Park house league and for club teams like the Addison Grizzlies and Chicago Blues, Fabbrini joined the Friars his junior year in high school.
Playing alongside center John Glancy and right-winger Mike Janda, Fabbrini flourished as a forward on one of the greatest lines in the history of Illinois High School hockey. Goalie Trevor Heffernan and all-state defenseman Chris Meegan and Eddie Mazur ensured comparable excellence at the other end of the rink.
Coached by Dave Cromer and his assistant, Mike Breslin, Fenwick won back-to-back state championships and Kennedy Cup titles during Fabbrini’s upperclassmen years.
“I was really fortunate to play on such great teams,” he said. “I actually played baseball and soccer at Fenwick as well. Having such a rich sports history was definitely a factor in my decision to go there.
“Being a student-athlete there was a big part of why I enjoyed it so much,” Fabbrini said. “I also think students at Fenwick are typically there because they want to get the most out of their education.”
With a strong academic and athletic background in place, Fabbrini considered junior hockey or college as his next move.
After much consideration, Fabbrini decided on the University of Illinois. During his time in Champaign-Urbana (2004-2008), Fabbrini had 74 goals and 58 assists for 132 points in 141 games played. The Illini won American Collegiate Hockey Association National Championships in 2006 and 2008.
“It really worked out great for me to be honest,” Fabbrini said about attending Illinois. “Like Fenwick, I was really fortunate to play with a lot of really good players. Those guys had won a lot before coming to Illinois.”
After assistant coaching stints with Fenwick and the Chicago Hawks, Fabbrini worked as a graduate assistant in the hockey program at Illinois during the 2008-09 season.
A few years later, he was named head coach of his alma mater. Entering his sixth season on the bench this fall, he has guided the Illini to a 142-87-9 record and the 2013 CSCHL regular-season championship.
“Hockey is such a great game,” Fabbrini said. “The sport has done a lot for me. Having the opportunity to give to the younger generation of hockey players is rewarding. It’s great to see kids grow as players and people.”
Now Fabbrini, 32, is excited about the aforementioned opportunity to coach Team USA in Russia.
“The Winter World University Games is sort of like a mini-Winter Olympics for college students,” Fabbrini said. “We send the best players from the ACHA whereas most other countries send current or former pro players.
“Anytime you get to represent your country in an international setting, it’s special,” he added. “I’m looking forward to working with and learning from head coach Roger Grillo. Hopefully, I can help this team bring home a medal.”