The Vancouver Canucks dipped into the NCAA free agent pool last week signing 21-year-old Michael Zalewski out of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. To get you caught up on all things Zalewski, Canucks.com chatted with the big forward earlier this week and talked hockey, family and landscaping. Yes, landscaping.
1 - Zalewski is 6-foot-2, 210-pounds and was born on August 18, 1992. He shares a birthday with Edward Norton, Andy Samberg and Robert Redford. He was born and raised in New Hartford, New York, which is just outside of Utica, home of the Comets.
“It’s a small town,” said Zalewski. “We lived about half a mile uphill from the rink. It’s a good place to grow up in, I enjoyed it.”
2 - They may not be as well-known as the Sutters or the Staals, but the Zalewski household is as much of a hockey family as any. Michael has two brothers and two sisters. Rich, the eldest brother, played four seasons of Division III hockey at SUNY-Oswego before exploring the semi-pro ranks for a season and a half. Steve, who is six years older than Michael, spent four seasons at Clarkson University after being drafted in the fifth round by the San Jose Sharks in 2004. Steve went on to play 383 games in the AHL, as well as 10 games in the NHL with San Jose and New Jersey. This past season he suited up for Lukko in Finland.
“They had a big influence on me. Growing up I was always looking up to them and wanted to be like them. Watching them gave me the opportunity to watch it play out before I did. They had a huge impact on my hockey life.”
3 - RPI and Clarkson University, Steve’s alma-mater, is one of the biggest rivalries in college hockey.
“They are very big rivals. It’s kind of funny, growing up watching Steve at Clarkson I kind of wanted to go there, but ultimately I had a chance at RPI and loved it there.”
4 - His sister, Erin, was a field hockey star at SUNY-Geneseo, while younger sister Annika is about to embark on an ice hockey scholarship to Colgate next season. All in all, five kids that all played hockey and will all play at the collegiate level. Although parents Elizabeth and Jamie didn’t play much of the game, they supported their five kids and their hockey dreams.
“My dad just played a little bit, started pretty late in high school. My mom did a bit of speed skating. I am not sure how we all jumped into hockey, but my parents were unbelievable for us growing up playing hockey.”
5 - Wanting a bit of a change of pace, Zalewski found himself in Vernon, BC playing with Vernon Vipers in the BCHL for two seasons prior to going to RPI. During the 2011-12 season, he led the Vipers in scoring with 75 points (38-37-75) in 60 games. In his rookie campaign, he posted 29 points (12-17-29) in 46 games, helping the Vipers go all the way to the Royal Bank Cup championship game, where they lost 2-0 to Pembroke.
“Playing in Vernon was awesome, but it was a very tough loss for us in the final game. The first season we had a great team and it was a lot of fun. It was a great experience overall.”
6 - Zalewski played with Adam Tambellini, brother of former Canucks forward Jeff, while in Vernon and played with Zach Schroeder, brother of current Canucks forward Jordan, the past two seasons at RPI. He also skates with Tom Sestito, a native of nearby Rome, NY, during the summer.
7 - Zalewski describes himself as a big, two-way forward.
“I think I am a pretty smart player that can play at both ends of the ice. I try to use my size to my advantage.”
8 - He tries to base his style of game off of Los Angeles Kings star, Anze Kopitar.
“He is a big body that plays in the offensive end and defensive zone. He is good all over the ice.”
9 - One thing Zalewski wants to improve on is his speed.
“My foot speed and explosiveness coming out of the corners. My first couple steps need to improve.”
10 - Without a doubt, signing an NHL contract with the Canucks was a very exciting and happy day.
“It was unbelievable. It was the best day of my life so far. It was crazy and I can’t even describe how exciting it was.”
11 - For a couple summers, he put away the hockey stick and grabbed a rake, working as a landscaper with his brother.
“My brother owned his own landscaping and lawn mowing business so I worked for him for a couple summers. It was a pretty good time.”
12 - One thing you don’t know about the newest Canucks prospect?
“I am a huge Kings of Leon fan. My favorite song is ‘California Waiting’.”