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New Hartford’s Zalewski enjoying hockey adventures

Ben Birnell
Sports writer
email / twitter
Posted 7/2/22

Hockey has provided plenty of adventure for Mike Zalewski. The New Hartford standout forward, who played junior hockey in British Columbia as well as two college seasons at RPI, has been able to …

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New Hartford’s Zalewski enjoying hockey adventures


Hockey has provided plenty of adventure for Mike Zalewski.

The New Hartford standout forward, who played junior hockey in British Columbia as well as two college seasons at RPI, has been able to build his career over the last few years in top pro leagues in Germany and Austria with four teams since 2017. The experience follows three solid seasons with the Utica Comets in the American Hockey League and a few opportunities in the NHL. 

“Any time you’re moving to a new city to play for an organization that is unfamiliar to you, I think that’s always a bit of an adventure,” Zalewski said in a phone interview with the Daily Sentinel this week. “That’s no matter if it is still in North America or whether you travel to Europe or wherever it is. Whenever you’re uprooting your life and moving to a different city for nine or 10 months to play with a new group of guys, that’s always an adventure. Adding foreign countries to that mix and different languages and all of that comes with it, I think it adds to the adventure.” 

There’s also the logistics of navigating a global COVID-19 pandemic while living in Europe as well as getting married to wife, Lucia, in summer 2020. Lucia is from Slovakia and the couple spent time there during the pandemic before getting a chance to return to the United States last summer.

“It was just some crazy times like it was for everybody,” Zalewski said of the pandemic. “Especially being in Vienna (Austria) when it normally wouldn’t be a bad thing but given the circumstances, everything wasn’t enjoyable. It was a weird time to be away from both of our families and friends. We had some difficult times but made it through it like a lot of other people.” 

This spring, with his season in Europe over and the Utica Comets in the playoffs, Zalewski attended two Comets home games. 

“I haven’t been back in that building since I was on the ice (with Utica),” said Zalewski, whose 167 games with Utica rank 10th on the team’s all-time list. “It was interesting to see and definitely brought back some good memories.” 

Zalewski – who helped New Hartford win a Division II state championship in 2009 – is the last pro hockey player in a family known for athletic achievements. He had the opportunity to play on the same DEL team with brother, Steven. Older brother Rich, also played hockey professionally. Sister Annika starred at Colgate and played professionally while also being part of the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association. She took a role with the Comets last season. Younger sister, Erin, was also a standout in field hockey. 

Zalewski said he has enjoyed playing professionally overseas since 2017. He’s played more than 130 games in the DEL in Germany and 90 more in Austria’s top league. Last season, he totaled 21 points in 39 games with Austrian team EC Graz, which is also known as Graz99ers.

“Because I’ve been in two leagues in different countries, it … creates a different environment and experience when you’re away from home and what you know on an entirely different continent,” said Zalewski, who has totaled 31 points twice while playing in Europe. “I’ve had some good seasons and been able to play on some good teams with great teammates. I’ve made some good friends along this adventure. We’ve been fortunate. We’ve also been able to play in some beautiful cities. So, it has been an enjoyable experience and I hope that continues.”

Zalewski said he’s set to head back to Austria in time for training camp in August. 

He’s happy with how his game has progressed over the last few seasons. 

“I’ve been continuing to try and improve and work at my game, my craft and ways I can be better,” said Zalewski, known as a smart two-way center who played a well-rounded game. “I would say I’ve been given more of a chance to have more of an offensive impact on the teams I’ve played with in Europe. At the same, that’s part of my game that I’ve wanted to work at. I think from an offensive perspective, my game has adapted to what’s been more asked of me over there compared to maybe where it was at in Utica and what my game would have been if I were to make it in the NHL, which was more of a two-way forward.” 

Zalewski is set to turn 30 in August. He said he doesn’t “have a timeline” for the next step. He said he’s still enjoying himself. 

“My mentality for now is that if I can play at at high level and as long as I’m still enjoying the game, the work and everything that comes with it and it makes sense for my wife and my family, then I play to continue to play,” he said. “At the end of the day, I’m trying to take it one season at a time and go from there.”


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