Richmond Senior, Zielinski, Skates His Way to the Top
As a child going through school, many of us were involved in sports or clubs of some sort. It was one way to shape our interests as a person, make new friends, and develop a healthy, well-rounded school day. Some of us will find that one sport or club that turns into a life-long passion; others will take an interest in lots of different activities.
18 year-old Jack Zielinski sampled many different sports as a kid. “My dad wanted me to try everything — and I pretty much did: track, football, lacrosse ... you name it. But hockey was different. Right away I loved hockey. Lacrosse and football — they were OK. They were fun. But to me they were nothing compared to hockey," he says. Hockey ignited a pure adrenaline rush in him that no other sport did. “As soon as I got on the ice for the first time” — as a 5-year-old — “I just fell in love with it,” said Zielinski, a standout defenseman with the Richmond Generals, a Tier III junior team based out of Richmond, Virginia. When he was just 7 years old, he began playing competitive hockey, where he really fine-tuned his skills.
“It’s hard to describe” hockey’s appeal, he said. “The speed, I think, is a big part of it. It’s a very fast game. I like that," says Zielinski. The chill of the rink and wind-in-your-face excitement coupled with hockey's inherent spontaneity provides a winning combination for enthusiasts. “Most sports are built around set plays,” he said. “You’re supposed to go here. You’re supposed to do such and such. But not hockey. In hockey, the game is constantly moving and changing in front of you. You constantly have to adjust and adapt. You never know what’s going to happen. You have to think quickly and you have to react quickly. I like that, too.”
With pure enthusiasm and serious skills, Zielinski is regarded as a legitimate NCAA Division I prospect. “He’s a tremendous skater — one of the best in the (18-team U.S. Premier Hockey League),” said Generals coach R.C. Lyke. “He’s fast and he’s strong, with great hands and a great shot. He has a chance, in my opinion, to be a big-time player.” Junior hockey tests not only the dedication of the player, but also that of his family. The athletes with the Generals lead lives similar to that of professionals, but without the pay. Practicing daily, putting in gym time three times a week, and playing a regular 40-game season, leaves little to no time for leisure. Since these are also high school students, they are fusing a rigorous athletic schedule with regular course work and studying. Lyke said Zielinski has flourished in this regimented environment because “he’s strong. He’s focused. He’s mature. He’s driven.”
The support of one’s family and friends is of utmost importance when the stress from such a schedule becomes overwhelming. “If a kid’s family isn’t 100 percent committed, there’s no way he’s going to be able to do this,” Lyke said. “It simply isn’t going to be possible.” Zielinski said the support of his parents, Joe and Martha, “has been huge ... just huge. All of the sacrifice, all of the time they’ve invested, all of the weekends my dad spent driving me (to practices and competitions) — I wouldn’t be anywhere close to where I am now without them.”
“It’s worth it, without a doubt,” Zielinski said. “The life I’m living right now is … well, it’s a pretty awesome experience. Playing hockey, traveling, staying in hotels, seeing cool places, meeting new people, making new friends — there’s nothing like it. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
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