Ryan Zapolski – New England College

By: Ryan Zapolski

Hockey is for Everyone

January 9th, 2014.  As a sophomore in college, I get a text from my then-assistant athletic director from high school, now mentor and friend, Caroline Heatley, “Hey, the Women’s Olympic Team needs some help, u in?”  Of course, I was in.  I was but a young sport management student, and I had no clue what I wanted to do in life.

“When do they need help?” I replied.

Heater responds, “Today.  In two hours.”

Not exactly a quick warning, but I gathered my things and sped off to Belmont Hill to help the Women’s team in a game that was preparing them for their trip to Sochi.  Fast forward two hours, and I arrive in what could be the coldest rink of all time – if you have ever been to Belmont Hill, you might agree with me.

I was tasked with charting basic stats like face-offs, shots, and goals.  Did I know how to qualify who won or lost a faceoff?  Nope, no clue, but I made it work.  I had never played hockey, but I had watched a lot in high school while running the scoreboards as a side job.

After getting a taste for the real deal, I wanted more.  Starting off my junior year of college, Mike Schafer, head coach at Cornell Men’s Ice Hockey, gave me a chance to introduce myself and ask what I could bring to his team.  To this day, Schafe will give me a hard time for wearing a full suit to the office that day, but it worked out as he gave me chance to help.

That year, I spent a lot of time working with two guys who are now two of my greatest friends; Lyle Gregory and Max Elberty – around Lynah Rink they called us “Team Ding Dong.”  The three of us did it all, but the real magic appeared at 2 am after every home game.  After prepping for and executing each game, we would stay after to clip video.  Usually, around 12:30 am the video files would corrupt and we would have to start over from square one, resulting in us staying at Lynah until 2 am.

Through the two of them, combined with Schafe, Topher Scott, and Ben Syer, I learned what feels like an infinite amount of knowledge about the game.  By the end of the year, I was analyzing recruit film, preparing scouting packages, and even folding socks!  Without the help of those guys on that team, I doubt I would still be involved with the game that I love so much.

During that same year, I had the chance to work for the Women’s National Team in Blaine, Minnesota for Winter Camp, and then again in the summer at their development camps in St. Cloud, Minnesota.  While the development camps are primarily for players, I gathered even more knowledge and met even more colleagues in the game that we all know and love.  The hockey world is no doubt a small one, and by the end of the summer after meeting and learning from Reagan Carey, Marissa Halligan, Kristen Wright, and the myriad of coaches in St. Cloud, the sky was the limit for me.  By the Summer of 2016, I was the intern for USA Women’s Hockey.

Now, I will get to the point.  No matter who you are, if you have a general interest in the game of hockey, there will always be somebody in the community that will teach you and provide a structure to help you gain experience.  Want to learn more?  Want to get involved?  Just ask someone!  Whenever I meet someone who isn’t familiar with the sport (and wants to learn), I get so excited to walk through the game with them.

I hope that I can provide the same experience that my mentors gave me because my time with the game has meant the world to me.  From where it all started at Belmont Hill, to the halls of ever-famous Lynah Rink, to the Czech Republic where I won gold with the U18 Women’s Team, and now my volunteer role at New England College, I will cherish my time with the great sport of hockey forever.  And it all starts with those who showed me the ropes and took a chance on me – I will forever be thankful!