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Eric Ciccolini’s season is well underway at the University of Michigan this year, where the New York Rangers’ prospect suits up for the NCAA’s Wolverines. Photo courtesy University of Michigan

Family, faith help athlete’s hockey journey

  • January 22, 2021

Eric Ciccolini seems adjusted to the reality of life as a student athlete in the midst of a pandemic.

He’s entering the second semester in a school year of online studies at the University of Michigan, where the Woodbridge, Ont., hockey player and New York Rangers’ prospect is in the midst of an unusual season with the ninth-ranked Wolverines.

Since October the sophomore forward and his teammates have been heading down to the basketball stadium six mornings a week for mandatory COVID-19 testing before practice. After the rapid test is complete, he heads back to his dorm room for about 30 minutes until receiving a text message confirming he’s in the clear.

“We’re pretty used to it now,” said Ciccolini, who turned 20 on Jan. 14. “Once we get back that negative test, we are free to do whatever we want.”

By this he means free to participate in the team’s regimen, with practices and games six days a week and workouts on two or three of those days. Outside of that, there isn’t much else going on outside of schoolwork, hanging with teammates and playing video games. As a student athlete, staying safe is a top priority.

Family support has meant the world to Ciccolini and going through this pandemic has only helped him appreciate that more. His parents, Michael and Rita, would make the drive from Woodbridge to Ann Arbor weekends to watch him play in his freshman year, and it’s been an adjustment not having their support in the stands due to pandemic restrictions. He was, however, able to spend time with family over the Christmas holidays when he was able to travel back home. 

One gift his family has given him that has helped maintain his positive attitude throughout all of this is his faith in God. The family attends St. Clare of Assisi Parish Church in Woodbridge, and Ciccolini says that in this challenging time when so many are suffering from lack, he is more grateful for everything he has been given. Throughout all the uncertainty, faith has helped him to maintain a positive perspective. 

“I think faith has played a big role for me this year,” said Ciccolini. “Just to see how fortunate I am and how blessed I’ve been for what I’ve had in my family growing up. I’ve always been taken care of and not had to worry about meals or being able to play hockey.  I’m fortunate enough to get the many opportunities that got me where I am today, and I give thanks to God for blessing us with that.”

Taking classes virtually this school year, Ciccolini says his experience at school has been quite a shift from his freshman season.

“It’s obviously been a little different being on Zoom classes every day,” said Ciccolini, who attended Holy Cross Catholic Academy in Woodbridge. “It kind of gets boring, but we try to make the most of it. We’re not really seeing anybody but our teammates so we try to do as much as we can together.

“There’s just two things to focus on now — school and hockey. There’s nothing else we can do. I think it gives us more time to do certain things like schoolwork and focus on things. I think it’s been a positive in one way.”

With very few distractions, the pandemic has allowed Ciccolini to focus on his goal of one day signing an NHL contract.

It’s been an exciting couple of years for Ciccolini, who was drafted in the seventh round of the 2019 NHL draft by the New York Rangers. Being chosen by the Rangers has special meaning for him as his grandfather, Sam Ciccolini, was a scout for the franchise. As a Wolverine, he also wears the No. 9 on his jersey in honour of a friend of his grandfather, the legendary Gordie Howe. 

The Wolverines’ season is in full swing. The right winger is off to a strong start, with a three goals and three assists in his first 12 games, including the game-winner in a 5-2 win over Wisconsin. It follows on a freshman year where he finished with 11 points, a goal and 10 assists, despite missing the final eight games due to injury.

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