The hockey arena lights glare down coldly as you inhale a deep breath of cold, crisp air. Your skate blades gleam mysteriously and you can feel the clear ice flowing underneath your feet. Handling the puck with both intricacy and ease, you race towards the opposing goal. The crowd is roaring and your head fills with fantasies of fame and glory.
CRUNCH! A wicked body check from Mats Sundin sends you crashing helplessly against the boards. CRACK! The glass shatters and your helmet goes spinning madly down the ice. SNAP! Your head jolts upright – back to reality. It’s showtime in the big leagues, and hockey’s coming at ya, hard and fast!
Welcome to a rookie’s view of the NHL – the world 19 year-old Michael Zigomanis can’t wait to experience this September. Zigomanis is a 2nd round draft pick for the Buffalo Sabres and this summer he will train with their conditioning coaches and veterans to prepare for his tryout this September. His reality is one most young hockey players can only dream of.
“An opportunity of a lifetime,” says the Kingston Frontenac’s center. “It’s one that I want to take to the highest level possible.” “Every kid’s dream is to play in the major league of their favourite sport,” he continues. “Being drafted to the NHL was a great reward for all of the hard work and training”.
This young man knows that success does not come without hard work. Zigomanis says that his training is “quite a workout”, but he also believes that “the vigorous condition will enable me to be ready”. As for his thoughts on injuries? “Injuries are just a part of the game,” he shrugs. A true Canadian.
The hockey phenomenon from Markham started playing the sport when he was seven years old. At sixteen he moved to Kingston to play for the Frontenacs in the Ontario Hockey League, a move which proved to be the turning point in his hockey career. It was in Kingston that Zigomanis was named 1998’s Rookie of the Year, and was ranked the top player in the 1999-2000 OHL Coaches’ Poll. His participation in both the 1999 and 2000 OHL all-star Games has caught the attention of several ‘Jerry Maguire’-ish agents, out looking for the next Gretzky.
Mike Z, star of the Kingston Frontenacs
“Some agents say that I remind them of Mike Peca or Steve Yzerman.” Zigomanis says. “But I’m just trying to create my own style. Playing on hockey teams where players are older is difficult. It’s tough to take credit because older players feel like it’s their turn to be in the spotlight,” he explains. “Being a rookie will be tough. I am not expecting it to be an easy ride”.
Other than his NHL prospects, Michael leads a relatively normal life. Although he is known as “the hockey guy” at school, no one is seeking him out for autographs-yet. “I’ve been told that playing hockey makes me walk like a penguin,” he laughs. While hockey is his main priority, Zigomanis, an OAC student at Father Michael McGivney Catholic Academy in Markham, plans to major in business at Queens University at some point in his life.
Although not really recognized in Markham, Zigomanis does have quite a fan base in Kingston. “In Kingston, a lot of kids look up to the OHL hockey players. We act as role models to these youngsters,” he explains. He also believes in giving back to the community that fostered him for the past three years. “It’s a personal moral of mine because giving back earns respect.”
It is good to see that Zigomanis is dedicated to bringing out the best in Canada’s national pastime. After all, this year’s “Most Gentlemanly Player of the Year” has a mandate to bring hockey back to its former days of glory in the eyes of the media. We wish him all the best in Buffalo and beyond.
Written by Kimberley Johnson