USC Native Makes Great Strides Towards Goal of Playing NHL Hockey
As a result of hard work, and a major change in his hockey game, Andrew Blazek is paving a road that may one day lead to the NHL.
Upper St. Clair's Andrew Blazek has always wanted to play in the NHL. His dream became more of a reality after his recent invite to the Pittsburgh Penguins prospect camp.
"I never thought of it as real, a real reality until recently," Blazek said, acknowledging he still has a long road ahead of him and that there are no guarantees in sports.
Blazek, 23, went undrafted, which is not uncommon in hockey because the draft concentrates on such young talent. Many late bloomers—and in hockey 19 years of age is late—go unnoticed. At 6 feet, 1 inch, 190 pounds, Blazek has the frame for a good defenseman.
That's where Blazek's story is so different from other aspiring hockey players. Until a year and a half ago, Blazek was a forward. He only recently made the switch to defenseman. So when scouts watched him play for Robert Morris University last year, in essence they were seeing Blazek for the first time as a defenseman.
Further confirmation that everything was headed in the right direction for Blazek came soon after. The Pittsburgh Penguins called and invited him to their prospect camp last month.
"It was a great opportunity, I learned so much," Blazek said.
The camp was primarily run by Wilkes Barre/Scranton head coach John Hynes and assistant coach Alain Nasreddine.
"They are such a classy organization. They treat all of their players the same great way. They could have flown in anybody from anywhere to fill that final roster spot. I was honored they chose to call me," Blazek said.
He learned a lot during camp, including important lessons he will take back with him to Robert Morris for his junior year this season. He walked onto the Colonials team as a freshman. They beat Miami University of Ohio—the number one team in the nation—twice in three days that year.
Blazek attributes much of his success to his skating ability. His skating coach, Barb Benedetti, lives in South Carolina, but trains with Blazek and others at Bladerunners in Bethel Park. One of the others includes Dylan Reese, an Upper St. Clair native who was drafted by and plays for the New York Islanders.
"When I work out with Dylan and other guys who have made it to the NHL it makes me feel my dream is more of a possibility," Blazek said.
Of course, it only takes one NHL coach to keep a rising star grounded. Penguins Assistant to the General Manager Tom Fitzgerald, who invited Blazek to camp, also helped run it.
"He told me he was impressed with my skating, and I need to work on the rush, and getting better gaps," Blazek said.
Blazek will work on those skills at the Island Sports Center where Robert Morris plays their home schedule beginning this October. He won't be lighting the lamp too often. Defenseman rarely do. However, you won't need the same keen eye as the NHL scout that may be sitting in the row in front of you to notice his potential.
Blazek feels he is finally where he belongs on the ice. Born a true defenseman, he wears his fake teeth as a badge of honor. Only a true defenseman would call his dentist at 10 p.m. with a wry smile that reveals a few missing chicklets.
Blazek is certainly where he belongs.