Mike Zalewski’s folks had to fly 4,500 kilometres to watch him play junior A hockey with the Vernon Vipers for parents weekend last month.
When it comes time for the 18-year-old to play with the NCAA Division 1 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) Engineers in 2012-13, the 90-minute commute down Interstate 90 will seem like a Sunday drive.
Zalewski, a New Hartford, NY product, signed his national letter of intent Friday and is thrilled to be joining the Engineers on an athletic scholarship.
“Their coaching staff believes in me a lot and they were really interested in me,” said Zalewski, who first met the RPI coaching staff on a visit two years ago.
“Obviously, with it being fairly close – it’s about an hour-and-a-half away from my house – it’ll be really easy for my parents. Overall, it seemed like the best fit for me.”
Going the college route has always been the goal of this rangy 6-foot-3 forward because it means he will be following in his older siblings’ footsteps.
His oldest brother Steve played ECAC hockey with the Clarkson University Golden Knights and is a fifth-round draft pick (153rd overall) of the San Jose Sharks. Steve is now with the Worcester Sharks (AHL affiliate).
His other brother, Rich, attended State University of New York at Oswego and played last season with the Pensacola Ice Flyers of the Southern Professional Hockey League.
His sister, Erin, plays field hockey at Geneseo State University in New York.
Now that the scholarship is out of the way, Zalewski is happy to solely focus on honing his game with the Vipers.
“It’s obviously what you’re working for when you’re playing in this league and to finally get it out of the way and just worry about your play and helping the team game in and game out is definitely a relief,” he said.
Zalewski skates on a line with fellow New Yorker John Knisley (committed to NCAA Cornell Big Red for 2011-12) and Aaron Hadley, forming one of the Vipers’ most consistent units. Zalewski is fifth in team scoring with 6-10-16 and 18 penalty minutes in 24 games.