CI Sports Report with Elise Menaker: From Slovenia to Decatur, life on the ice

For the first time the Decatur Blaze hockey team has what's called billet families -- families that host players from all around the country and world.  This week in Central Illinois Sports Report with Elise Menaker you get a glimpse into the life of a player from Slovenia who finds himself right at home in Decatur.

His name is Luka Znidarsic.  He's from Slovenia and hockey is his life.  The 18 year old started playing at 7 years old.  He was playing in Slovenia for nine years before going to Austria for two years, Sweden for two years, then he came to the United States where's he's been for about five months.

“I'm moving around because the level, higher level and everything,” Luka said.

It's here Luka's talent can be recognized by more schools and scouts.

“One of the scouts, he basically gave me an offer to play in Maine but then the team folded, so we decided to come here,” Luka said.

And he loves it.  Partly because of his team and partly because of his billet family.  The Redpaths who took Luka into their home so he could play for the Blaze.

“We jumped at the chance,” said Nichole Redpath Luka's billet mom.  “We thought it would be awesome.  We've got teenagers so we thought, 'what's one more?'”

“I think it's awesome,” Luka said.  “They're awesome people, awesome family, they treat me nice... There's also some rules that I don't like but I still love it.”

“We're allowed to have girls over but you have to leave the doors open all the time,” Luka said with a smile.

“He's not going to like the rules,” Nichole said with a laugh. 

And as for those peanut butter sandwiches he loves: no food in the basement where he lives.

“No kidding, the kid can eat five or six peanut butter sandwiches after dinner,” Nichole said.

While at home Luka may still be adjusting to his new life, on the ice, it doesn't matter who you are or where you're from, and for a player like Luka from Slovenia, there's things he still needs to work on.

“Most Europeans from my experience, they're very skill set,” said Zac Pearson, Head Coach of the Decatur Blaze.  “They're very good individually.  They need to broaden their game as a team game, learn to play defense, learn more about systems especially because that's the way hockey is player here in North America, and if he wants to move up, those are things he needs to focus on.”

He's got the speed but coach says the wingman could probably use another year in the league before moving on to college.

“Right now my goal is college hockey but afterwards hopefully I have a chance at the NHL,” Luka explained.

“His potential is limitless,” Pearson said.  “Heck, he could go to the NHL.  I don't know... It all depends.  What does he want he want to put into and does he continue to put into it.  He has to take advantage of the time because it does go pretty fast.”

And in order to play college hockey Luka first must finish high school.  He was never able to get his diploma because he traveled for hockey.  So the Redpaths helped sign him up for classes at Richland Community College.

“We want to see him live out his dream and we would love to be part of that,” Nichole expressed.  “We don't look at Luka like he's just a temporary kid.  He has completely taken on the family role in our home.”

And Luka wants to remain part of a family and a team that he loves.

Luka one of 21 players on the blaze including one of Nichole's sons.  They're between the ages 16 and 20.  Luka will be living with the Redpaths through at least March of this year.

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