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Family Man

By Erika S. Lewis

Game Program, November 12, 2004

Entering college as an 18 year-old freshman is not something that college hockey players typically do. Charles James Hanafin, better known as C.J., grew up in Burlington, Massachusetts and came to Rensselaer in the fall of 2001, immediately after attending Austin Prep High School. For C.J., this was his story but certainly not the beginning nor the end of it.

Growing up he was one of five children and after his father kept taking him skating he realized he loved hockey after only a few times with a stick in his hand. "Growing up hockey became my life. I was either playing street hockey all day or I was at the rink at night," Hanafin stated. His hero in the world of sports was Pavel Bure of the Vancouver Canucks (currently of the NY Rangers). "He was an exciting player to watch and one of the best players in the NHL at the time I was growing up," Hanafin explains.

More importantly his heroes in everyday life were his parents and grandparents. "I come from a real large and close knit family. I consider myself a real lucky guy to be a part of such a great family that has shown me so much support over the years," he boasts. Head coach Dan Fridgen understands this aspect of the senior management major. "CJ comes from a great family background and is very family oriented," says Fridgen. Hanafin goes on, "My parents have been nothing but the best to me, my three brothers and my sister throughout our lives. They have taught me the most important aspects of life as well as being there for me every time I needed anything. My grandparents would have to be categorized the same way for me as well."

C.J. has over 80 cousins (yes, 1st cousins) and they all live within ten minutes from each other. "Every time I play back home in Boston there are about a hundred of my relatives there cheering me on. Everyone of my relatives have shown me so much support going to the games, writing emails or calling me asking how things are," he states. Hanafin's experience is again different from his teammates because he lives close enough to see his family on a regular basis. Most of the guys on the team only get to see their families once or twice a year but that may be where C.J. steps in.

Temmate and fellow senior, Nick Economakos understands how important family is to Hanafin. "Being a teammate or a friend of CJ's is like being his brother," explains Economakos. "He is a loyal and giving friend that will do anything for a teammate." Economakos believes that his talent on the ice matches his kindness off the ice saying, "He was one of the most highly touted recruits coming into RPI, making the NHL's central scouting list. He utilizes all of his natural talent and is maturing into the great type of player he can be."

C.J. did come to Rensselaer as a student-athlete who had been honored for his talent on the ice as well as for his academic prowess. He was named to The Boston Herald Massachusetts' "Dream Team," the Europa Cup MVP, a Hockey Night in Boston All-Star and All-Scholastic and Leadership Award recipient, a Catholic Central All-Star three times and earned All-Scholastic honors two times.

How was the Engineer's hockey program so lucky to get this kid? "I decided to choose RPI because it was the best fit for me. After coming on a few different visits here RPI gave me the best of all my options. A big part of my decision to go here was because not only did I want to go to a school with a great hockey tradition but one that had great academics as well. I knew growing up that hockey would only take me so far in life and to get a good education was very important," he explains.

Hanafin goes on to admit, "But to be honest, the hockey tradition and the way the RPI hockey program is run is the major reason why I came here." Coaching, the fans, the guys on the team and the Houston Field House also sparked interest and CJ's attention. "I know a lot of guys that play on other Division I hockey programs and I can honestly say the RPI hockey team is very different from other teams. This hockey team is a family and everyone hangs out with each other. Since day one this hockey team has been nothing but one big happy family," he asserts.

From the start of his freshman year he looked up to players to help him to make the transition into the Engineer family. "Coming straight from high school and never living away from home made it a big jump. But the guys on the team made that transition a lot easier," Hanafin says. "I looked up to all the older guys on my team. My freshman year we had a great group of upperclassmen that were always there for the younger guys. Guys like Matt Murley, Steve Munn, Marc Cavosie and Nolan Graham helped me fit in right away."

The kind of closeness that he saw on his recruiting trips and experienced during his freshman campaign has translated into friendships for C.J. and his teammates. "Nick Economakos, Matt McNeely, Vic Pereira, and Blake Pickett have been great friends to me over the last four years. Cody Wojdyla and Andrew Martin, who transferred from Fairfield University have been good friends for the last two seasons as well. Those guys have taught me a lot and I don't know what I will do without them by my side in the years to come," Hanafin admits.

Economakos has many great memories of CJ and remembers one hockey memory, in particular, that he will never forget. "My best hockey memory would be one of the most beautiful goals I've seen in an RPI uniform. He pulled off an amazing toe drag move on a one on one against UMass-Amherst, and then tucked the puck into the net," he remembers. Off the ice, they have been the best of friends. "I would say the best memory I have of CJ is a tradition we have together. Every now and then we will go to I Love NY Pizza, have a couple slices of cheese pizza and coke, and talk about women and hockey. Those talks are what I will miss the most about CJ," he acknowledges.

It is no doubt that family is the most important thing in life to Hanafin. The love of family is one of the integral reasons he chose to attend Rensselaer, but it has also been his favorite aspect of the hockey program here. "We have a very close knit group of guys that get along with each other and love to be around each other. The bond we share translates on the ice," he states.

Being that family is so important to CJ it is not a surprise to hear about his experience at Merrimack last season. The Engineers traveled to play in Boston and when they took the ice to warm-up there were very few people in the stands. CJ heard a crowd of fans and looked up to find that there were 100 of his family members cheering for him. "Some of my most memorable moments since playing at RPI have been the games where all my family got to go and watch me play," he conveys.

Being a student and hockey player at Rensselaer over the last four years has taught Hanafin quite a bit but the most important thing has been to overcome adversity. "Two years ago I went through a very hard time after one of my best friends back home passed away up in Canada while playing juniors. That has been the toughest thing I have ever had to go through in my lifetime. Those guys [Economakos, McNeely, Pereira, and Pickett] helped me get through that tough time," Hanafin recollects.

When he thinks about life after RPI, Hanafin is thankful about his years here and says, "I am going to miss hanging out with the guys, going to dinners, going on the end of the year trips, and a lot more things we do on a daily basis. It is going to be one sad day when I wake up and those six guys aren't just down the road from me. I try to not even think about it."

Although he is leaving his Rensselaer family, he has many memories and opportunities still to come. Hanafin is leaving the door open to possibilities that include a career in hockey or elsewhere. Economakos believes that CJ can do whatever he chooses saying, "If CJ so desires he will be able to play professional hockey. He has big league skills, has gotten much bigger, and if he has the desire, he would be able to surprise many people in the hockey world." If he does not desire to play hockey, his teammate says, "he will probably follow in the footsteps of his father and be a Massachusetts State Trooper."

Family, for CJ, is what life has and always will come back to. His father brought him on the ice and gave him his first hockey stick. He chose to come to play hockey at an institution that was, in essence, a family. He has made friends that are now part of his family. It has been a wonderful feeling that has come full circle and what it all comes back to for CJ Hanafin is his affection for his parents and grandparents. "If it wasn't for them and their undying love, compassion, and dedication to family, none of this would be possible," he concludes.