Viper grad ready to join Canucks

Vernon Vipers’ grad Mike Zalewski is a member of the Vancouver Canucks.

Mike Zalewski

Mike Zalewski

Vernon Vipers’ grad Mike Zalewski is a member of the Vancouver Canucks.

Zalewski, who turns 22 in August, will join the Canucks on their current road trip, which goes through Florida and Tampa Bay.

He signed a two-year, entry-level contract with the NHL team. He left the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) Engineers of Troy, N.Y. early after pocketing 26 points (9-17-26) in 35 games this season.

“It was really tough trying to decide whether to leave school or not,” Zalewski told The Morning Star, Friday afternoon, 20 minutes before the Canucks officially made the announcement. “I felt like it was an opportunity I was ready for; I’m ready to make that next step. I’ll be heading out to spend the rest of the season in Vancouver.”

The 6-foot-2, 210-pound forward finished tied for first with RPI in shorthanded goals with two. In 75 career NCAA games, Zalewski compiled 21 goals and 47 points, and 75 penalty minutes.

Zalewski is the second RPI forward this week to leave school early after Ryan Haggerty signed with the New York Rangers onWednesday.

Prior to joining RPI, the New Hartford, N.Y., product played two seasons with the Vipers, where he was an assistant captain and led the team in scoring in the 2011-12 season with 75 points (38-37-75) in 60 games.

He managed a dozen goals in his rookie season in Vernon.

He collected six goals and in 23 playoff games in 2010-11 to help the Vipers win the Mowat Cup and Doyle Cup and also reach the Royal Bank Cup final in Camrose, Alta. He managed a dozen goals in his rookie season in Vernon.

“Two years is quick,” said Vipers’ head coach Jason Williamson.

“He was that prototypical power forward. He had some high-end skill and for his size, he had the hands. He was very confident and determined. I’m really happy for him.”

Zalewski said he discussed options with his family and agents.

“My agent (Brian Bartlett and Steve Bartlett represent Zalewski) did the talking with the Canucks and I spoke to their assistant GM Lorne Henning. He said, ‘Welcome and we’re excited about this opportunity.’ It’s been a stressful two days. It’s been good stress and I’m very excited.”

A business administration student, Zalewski helped the Engineers place seventh in the ECAC this season, at 8-9-5. Ex-Vipers Connor and Kellen Jones twins, who are seniors, boosted the Quinnipiac Bobcats to third spot at 12-6-4.

“We are thrilled to see Mike earn his lifelong dream of signing an NHL contract going directly from RPI to the NHL,” said RPI head coach Seth Appert, on the team’s website.

“His work ethic has helped him develop into a power forward in his two years at RPI. He is a great teammate and will be missed, but we are excited to watch him with the Vancouver Canucks.”

Zalewski, a left shot, gives major props to Appert and assistants Bryan Vines and BCHL grad Nolan Graham (Nanaimo/Chilliwack)

“It was great at RPI. My time there was awesome and it was a very good spot for me to develop into the power forward I am today. I’m very thankful  to the coaches, who gave me every opportunity to develop. I was on the first line, powerplay, penalty kill.”