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Settling in Nicely: Houghton native Hannon off to hot start for IceFighters Leipzig

Professional hockey seems to come easily so far for Connor Hannon.

Hannon, a 2014 Houghton graduate and Finlandia University alum, has scored 17 points in his first 17 games as a professional for IceFighters Leipzig, including six goals and 11 assists. He’s second on the team in points — as a defenseman. IceFighters forward Robin Slanina has 12 goals and nine assists to lead the team.

Hannon said the European style of play has been a benefit to his strong start.

“I think playing the European style has always benefited me, a lot more one on one, less physical, just playing with my head and feet and less with the body,” Hannon said. “The transition to pro has been good — took a few games to get used to the style and D-zone habits.

“I think for me being a more offensive defenseman, I can jump in the play and help a bit up front as well as in our own zone. I think the biggest thing I’ve improved on is the one-on-one game which is all we play here, though it needs constant work and something I’m practicing all the time.”

The IceFighters lost 2-0 to Crocodiles Hamburg on Friday afternoon. The IceFighters (7 wins, 5 losses, 4 OT wins, 1 OT loss) are fifth in the Oberliga, Germany’s third-tier professional hockey league despite a rash of injuries.

“I think we’ve done a pretty good job of playing a 200-foot game being pretty solid on D and being able to generate some offense in transition,” Hannon said. “We need to get all our guys healthy, and play a full 60 minutes every night and not taking any shifts off, letting teams hang around or get caught playing from behind.”

The IceFighters visit the Tilburg Trappers on Sunday.

Hannon is a plus-12 on the ice so far this season, meaning the IceFighters have scored 12 more goals than they’ve allowed when he’s on the ice, through 17 games.

“It’s important, I want to be able to have a solid D game as well as help up front,” Hannon said of his plus-minus statistic. “I hate getting scored on probably more than I like to score.”

Hannon was a prolific scorer while at Houghton High School, scoring 131 points over his junior and senior seniors. Through 17 games with the IceFighters, Hannon has already surpassed his career-high total at Finlandia, when he tallied 15 points in 22 games in the 2018-19 season.

Hannon signed with the IceFighters in October, shortly before the season’s start.

The IceFighters locker room has a lot of international flavor, something Hannon said has enriched his experience learning the game at the professional level.

“Yeah we have a bit of a melting pot team which is super cool,” he said. “A Finn, Czechs, Germans, a Swede, and myself, so lots of cultures in the locker room. I think the older guys just kind of lead by example and give their two cents when necessary. Learning the style of play was something all the Euros helped me with and continue to help me with everyday.”

Hannon said there’s a bit of a language barrier at times. IceFighters head coach Sven Gerike draws up drills and conducts meetings in German. Hannon said if he can’t understand, his teammates or Gerike will tell him in English.

Hannon said communication during gameplay, like directing coverage or calling for a pass, is in German. Teammates talk to him between faceoffs in English.

“For little things like one on, time, numbers, skate, stuff like that is in German, but I don’t even notice it anymore,” Hannon said of communication in the action.

Hannon has a quiet gameday routine. He wakes up early and go for a walk or pregame skate, depending on where the team is playing.

“Breakfast is eggs with bacon, toast, and coffee and lots of water,” Hannon said. “Then usually read and watch a little Netflix before my nap, little pasta lunch, then head to the rink. I try to keep my mind clear until I get to the rink, then do my warmup, little visualization of some common situations in my head, then game time. I’m not a very superstitious player like some guys.”

Hannon’s first professional goal came late in the second period of the team’s 5-2 win against EG Diez-Limburg on Nov. 22. The puck from that goal isn’t anywhere special, Hannon said. At least not yet.

“Right now it’s sitting in my stall at the rink collecting dust,” Hannon said, “but it’ll go next to my first high school and college goal pucks when I get back home.”

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