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Senior forward Anthony Yezek confident this is the year

Alternate captain plays around the world, battles injury, and comes back to help lead team strive for a ring

Anthony Yezek can count the times he’s
come close to a championship title, but he
hasn’t tasted it, yet. The senior alternate
captain for Florida Gulf Coast University’s
ice hockey team has had an interesting
season and hopes to end it with a ring.
“This is the most talented team I’ve
ever played on. The depth we have is
incredible—all four lines can score,”
Yezek said. “Our defense is solid. Our
goaltending is solid. I’ve never played with
two goalies who could alternate games,
and everyone’s confident that both are
going to do as well as the other. I think we
have a great shot this year.”
Growing Up in Hockey
Yezek was born and raised in Peoria,
Ill. He started skating when his father
would take him to open skates starting
at 2 years old. He joined the Mini-Mites
organized hockey league at 4 years old,
and began playing travel hockey only two
years later. Yezek strayed a bit from the
path that most college hockey players take
when he quit playing after middle school
because he wanted to have a normal
life in high school. It only lasted about a
year and a half before he returned to the
sport. His high school team came close to
a championship title but got eliminated in
the second game of the finals.
“You need those rough time to make
the wins that much sweeter and cherish
them a little more. You work a little harder
than people who haven’t been that close,”
Yezek said.
Junior Days
After high school, Yezek took another
year off before going back to hockey. The
coach of his hometown team, the Peoria
Mustangs, asked him to skate with the
team to see if he was interested in playing
again.
“There’s something about a hockey
team—the camaraderie. I walked in the
locker room the first day of practice, and
when I left, I had 20 new best friends.
It’s special. That’s why I love the sport so
much.”
He played in juniors for two years. His
second year is when he met his secondbiggest
influence in the game. He said his
dad was his first influence. His father got
him started playing and was very involved
in the sport while Yezek was growing up.
He was an assistant coach for his teams
as a kid and was always at the games. He
doesn’t think that his father had much
help from anybody who really knew the
sport when he was growing up, so he was
adamant about being a big part of Yezek’s
hockey career. Then during his second
year of juniors, the coach of the Peoria
Mustangs was another huge influence in
his life.
“Jean-Guy Trudel, he played a few
games in the NHL but played mostly
in Europe for the Swiss league. He just
knows so much about the game. I learned
more about hockey in one year than the
20 years I’ve been playing,” Yezek said.
“He taught me a lot about work ethic, also.
There’s always someone out there who’s
working harder than you, so you have to
give your all and get better every day. It’s
really eye opening to look back on that
now. My first year of juniors, we were a
terrible team. We were 8-35. The next
year he came in, and we were 33-10. We
completely turned around.”
Ending up at FGCU by Accident
That year the team went to the
championships but lost. After juniors
he ended up at FGCU unintentionally.
His family used to come to Southwest
Florida for vacation every year for spring
break while Yezek was growing up. They
would rent a condo and stay on Sanibel
Island. When his parents decided to buy
a second house, they chose Fort Myers.
When they realized that there was a
college nearby, his parents told him that
it would be easy for him to go to college
and live in the house they were buying in
Southwest Florida. He came to visit in
spring 2011 and said he fell in love with the
campus.
“It looked like a vacation. I knew I
could play hockey here but didn’t know
they had such a great program,” Yezek
said. “I thought I would come down here
and be one of the best players. The first
guy I saw was Mike Lendino. I saw him
out there skating, and he does magical
things with the puck. He’s so creative. It’s
amazing to watch. After I saw him, all
I could do was think, ‘I hope I make the
team.’”
Yezek played for the D3 ice hockey
team at FGCU his first year, which is
the same year that the D2 team won
the National Championship. He said he
watched the championship and was so
proud of the team. He was happy for the
guys who won, and he wished that he
was out there with them. That’s when he
decided he would win a National Title
before graduating.
D2 All-Star Tournament
Yezek’s second year at FGCU he
played for the D2 team but was out with
an injury for the majority of the season.
He had broken his hand and had to have
surgery. Yezek only returned for the last
few weeks of the season. However, he was
selected along with Dan Echeverri and
Kevin Zipkin to play in the D2 All-Star
Tournament in Philadelphia.
“Ech (Dan Echeverri) is such a good
hockey player. He makes everyone around
him so much better. He sees the ice really
well. He can do whatever he wants to
and puts the puck where he wants to. It’s
really cool to be able to play with someone
that talented,” Yezek said. “I remember
one shift when we had scored right when
we got out there as a line. We stayed out
a little longer and scored again. We told
coach to leave us out, and we’d score
again. We did. We scored a third time on
that shift. That was the first time I’ve ever
been on a line that scored three goals in
one shift.”
Yezek shared his experiences with
superstitions that the teammates
and friends did while they were in
Philadelphia. He claims that superstition
is part of the game. Every hockey player
has his own quirks, and every locker room
has guys who are range from incredibly
superstitious to only mildly superstitious.
“Before every game in Philly while
we were in the hotel room, Zip, Ech and
I would listen to Krewella – ‘Killin’ It,’
eat frozen sour gummy worms and mix
our odd concoction of Pedialyte and C4
preworkout, which we would drink before
and throughout the game,” Yezek said.
“Playing five games in three days is not
easy, but we managed to play at a high
pace every time we stepped on the ice. So
our strange routine was working for us.
That’s the weird stuff hockey players do on
a regular basis.”
Superstitions in the Locker Room
This year the FGCU D2 ice hockey
team has its own locker room at Germain
Arena. Every player on the team will agree
that the locker room has helped the team
in tremendous ways. Yezek believes that
the camaraderie on the team is stronger
because of the locker room. The guys
spend more time together because of
it, and being a healthier team off the ice
makes for a stronger team on the ice. As
the FGCU ice hockey staff writer, I’ve
stood in the hallway waiting for interviews
after 24 games. For 22 out of the 24 games,
the team has won and always plays the
song, “The Way” by Ariana Grande and
Mac Miller.
“It was one of our very first practices
of the year, and I have a big SUV. We had
all gotten there really early because it
was our first time being in the locker
room, so everybody
was pumped about being there. We were
two hours early for practice,” Yezek said.
“We decided to put nine or so people in
my car and ran over to the gas station to
get snacks. I have this CD in my car, and
it has a bunch of different tunes on it.
The Ariana Grande song came on and
everybody started singing it. So we said,
‘Maybe this should be our win song this
year.’ We adopted it and now it’s the first
song we play when we get into the locker
room. Then after that it’s just some
classic hockey jams. It’s actually on my
phone. I put the playlist together. It’s just
a bunch of good songs to celebrate a win
with. Having that locker room has really
brought the team together.”
Yezek also talked about the way the
team behaves in the locker room. Some
guys will stay for only 10 minutes and
then head home, while others stay for an
hour or two. He says that all the guys have
different things they do before a game to
get into their routine. Tyler Tracy, one of
FGCU’s starting goalies, will warm up his
hands by bouncing balls against the wall.
The team also stretches together this
year, which they haven’t done in previous
years. Yezek believes that it gives the team
time together to stay loose while keeping
their focus on the game they’re about to
face. Yezek has his own ways to get into
the game.
“Before the game, I like to make sure
my equipment is good—tape my sticks
and have some snacks. I’ll eat about four
or five hours before the game then won’t
eat again until we get in the locker room,”
Yezek said. “I have some superstitions.
The way I tape my shinguards and my
elbowguards is the same every time so
I feel comfortable. So nothing is out of
place, and I feel the same going onto the
ice every time.”
Most Memorable Moments
Yezek also shared his most memorable
moments in hockey. He said the only
championship he’s ever won was when
he played for the elite team when he was
10 years old. He also went to play for the
North America United team over the
summer. They played in Germany and
Slovenia.
“Europe was one of the most
memorable. It was such a blast. Despite
my Bohemian last name, I’m actually
mostly German,” Yezek said. “Getting to
go experience the culture in Germany and
play hockey there was amazing. I do better
on European ice. My strength is speed.
The ice is bigger, and I think I play better
on it.”
Yezek does claim that some of his
most memorable moments came this
season with the team he plays with now.
This year, he was chosen as an alternate
captain.
“I was the first alternate chosen. Ech
had been named captain, and Lendino told
him that he could choose his alternates. I
was kind of shocked by it. Dan called me
out of the locker room during one of the
first practices and brought me into the
hall with coach to tell me that he wanted
me to be one of his alternate captains. I
think a lot of it had to do with me sticking
with it last year when we had such a tough
season,” Yezek said. “Ech and I never gave
up, no matter how bad the season got.
Those last few games, I was just excited
to be playing and a lot of the others had
already given up on the season. I think
that shows a lot about Ech and what he
decides to surround himself with. He’s
a very loyal person and I think because I
showed him that loyalty back last year, he
decided to reward me with being a leader
next to him this year.
“It is an honor to be one of the
alternate captains. I wish everyone else
had a letter on, too. I think this team is
full of leaders. I look up to the new guys.
If Tracy’s having a really good game that
fires me up. If Duper, Schilson, Garst,
Valancy, all of the guys…when they’re
playing well or they lay a big hit, it pumps
me up too. I wish I could put a letter on
everyone’s chest, but it is an honor to be
looked up to like that,” Yezek said.
During a practice in September 2013,
Yezek slid across the ice and into the
boards. He hit the boards with his left
shoulder. He sustained an injury that
kept him out for the first five weeks of the
season. He thought that he was going to be
out for possibly the entire season. During
week six against the Waldorf College
Warriors, Yezek returned to the ice.
“It was such a special weekend. My
parents were here. I was really out of
shape. My cardio wasn’t where everyone
else’s was. It was so good to be back that
I was running off of purely adrenaline,”
Yezek said. “It was great just being in the
dressing room, putting on gear, getting
ready to go against 20 other guys who
have weapons in their hands and blades on
their feet. It felt so good to be back.”
Yezek played a major role in his first
game back. He ended up with three
points on that Friday night, Nov. 8., two
assists and a beautiful goal. Since then,
he has avoided injury and maintained his
role on the team as an alternate captain.
Yezek considers himself a middle-of-theroad
leader. Echeverri mainly leads by
example on the ice. Zipkin is a very vocal
leader, always talking to the team about
what they’re doing right and what needs
improvement. Yezek claims he speaks
up when the team needs a vocal leader
but tries to lead on the ice as much as
possible with his energy and style of play.
In the middle of January, the team went to
Virginia for a three-game road trip. One
of his most memorable moments from
this season was the bus trip home from
Virginia when the team knew that they
had secured a berth to nationals.
“We potentially have seven competitive
hockey games left. It’s really exciting to
know that the ring is only a few games
away. It’s so cliché, but every player says
it. We need to take it one game at a time,
one period at a time and one shift at a
time,” Yezek said. “On the way home from
Virginia, we figured we had secured some
sort of potential national berth. We were
singing ‘Shipping Off to Boston’ for about
an hour on the bus. We were probably
annoying the coaches, but we were just so
excited to secure it so early. For the time
we have off, we’re going to try to stay in
shape with a lot of working out. Not just
skating, but off-ice work-outs as a team so
everyone stays in shape and stays focused
on what we’re here for and what we’ve
worked for.”
Final Words
Yezek is in the first semester of his
senior year at FGCU. He’s majoring in
accounting and is considering continuing
in grad school here in Dunk City. He just
started his internship as a tax intern at
a CPA firm in Bonita Springs. Unlike
some of his teammates, Yezek believes
that his degree will take him further in
his future than his hockey career. As
much as he loves the game, he is not
highly considering attempting to go pro
in Europe. He plans on basking in his
career in accounting and will continue to
play hockey on men’s league teams. Yezek
added his own final comments, some
random, some meaningful.
“My favorite food is chicken, but I’ve
gotten in this habit now after every Friday
game, I have pizza, because after every
junior game when we were on the road
we ate pizza. I always played better the
second day of junior hockey,” Yezek said.
“I also really want to thank all of the fans.
We have such a cool fan base. It’s great to
show up to the rink, and I know it’s one
of the toughest places for other teams to
play. We always have such a good and loyal
crowd out there. We love their support,
and I want to thank all the fans. They
mean a lot to me.”

 

Anthony Yezek scores against Waldorf College in first game back from injury. EN Photo/Jill Himmelfarb

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