CHATHAM, NJ - There came a point where everything started to slow down and Jen Olnowich could anticipate how to stop a speeding puck headed straight toward her.
So much so, that the Chatham High junior is right at home playing with and against the male teammates and opponents she faces as a goalie for the Hitmen 16U Elite ice hockey team.
"I used to be a little bit scared of the puck, especially when people got bigger and stronger," Olnowich said. "But after a while, I got used to tracking the puck. It got a lot easier for me. I don't know how to explain it. Once you play that much, you can really understand what's happening and anticipate what might happen. It got easier. Getting shot at isn't always fun, but I don't worry about it anymore.
"I've played on boys teams my whole life and they've been pretty welcoming, but the shots are a lot harder. It's kind of fun that the team depends on you in some situations."
In the other part of her hockey life, Olnowich plays for the Madison-Chatham girls ice hockey team, also known as "Chatison."
In the season opener vs. Pingry, Olnowich scored an unassisted goal and then set up the winning score by Molly Coyne with 39 seconds left in an 8-7 win.
Jen Olnowich is the Hawk Allstate Chatham Athlete of the Week.
On the Chatison team, the 16-year-old gets to play as a skater on defense, where she is a starter for the growing CHS girls program.
"Chatison is like a hobby for me," she said. "I get to meet other people and play ice hockey with my friends."
In her third season playing with the Chatham-Madison girls team, Olnowich has produced career totals of 13 goals and 15 assists from her defensive position. An example of what she can do in the open ice can be seen in the video below in the opener vs. Pingry.
"She's known for being a goalie, but there aren't many times when you have a goalie who can skate out at a high level," Chatison coach Kevin Hannon said. "She plays goalie for her other travel teams and asked to be a skater for our team.
"She is one of those freak athletes who is good at everything. The girls on the team look up to her. She plays with a smile on her face, almost like she's out there playing pond hockey."
Olnowich was wearing skates at the age of four and received her introduction to goalie at the age of eight when her older sister needed someone to shoot at. Allie Olnowich, now a junior defender for Syracuse University, would take shots at her younger sister on the fake ice in the family basement.
"She's the one who got me started playing goalie, but I really liked it and that's why I stayed with it," Olnowich said.
Although she played a number of sports growing up, Olnowich used to split most of her time between soccer and ice hockey. When she started high school, she decided to concentrate on ice hockey year-round.
"I thought about what would be better for me to get into college, but I just like hockey better in general," Olnowich said.
She obviously made the right choice since she has already committed to Princeton University.
In the meantime, she still carves out time in the fall to play for the Chatham varsity soccer team, where she has compiled 16 goals and 11 assists in her three seasons.
"I still really like to play soccer," she said. "That's the one season I set aside time to play another sport other than hockey."
Olnowich says she inherited her sports acumen from her mother, Patti, who played Division 1 tennis at Rutgers University.
"I was always pretty athletic and I got that from my mom," Olnowich said. "I get my brains from my father, Peter. He's very smart and if I need help in any subject, he knows everything about it."
Editor's note: The Hawk Allstate Chatham Athlete of the Week is sponsored by the John Hawk Agency. John and his team have been protecting local families and business owners for over 12 years. Call them at 973-635-9494 for a new auto, home, life and business insurance quote this week and if you mention the Hawk Allstate Chatham Athlete of the Week they will make a $20 contribution to the Chatham Booster Club! To learn more, visit the agency website.