KALAMAZOO — When Yale University came knocking, Kalamazoo Wings defenseman Mike Matczak did not hesitate to answer. “I mean, being recruited to play Division I hockey at an Ivy League school, that’s a no-brainer,” Matczak said.
Matczak said they were fortunate to have one of the top teams in the country during his time at Yale and would not trade his time there for anything. “The whole atmosphere and environment around the hockey team at that time was just a cool thing to be a part of,” he said.
Even though the team fell short of its ultimate goal, Matczak said he made many memories that he will carry with him for the rest of his life. “My whole senior year (was special), to be ranked as the number one team in the country for eight or nine weeks and getting a number one seed in the NCAA tournament was pretty amazing,” Matczak said. The team did win the ECAC Championship that year for the third consecutive year.
Before attending Yale, Matczak was enrolled at the Milton Academy in Massachusetts for three years. In 2007, the Wall Street Journal named Milton, which was founded in 1798, as one of the top 25 college preparatory schools in the world. The Sewell, N.J., native said that his parents felt that if they were going to send him away to school, they wanted to send him to a good school.
“Luckily enough for me, their coach was interested, he gave me an opportunity to play there, and I loved every second of it,” Matczak said. Among the notable alumni of Milton Academy are poet and playwright T.S. Eliot, Robert and Ted Kennedy, current Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, and Medal of Honor recipient Sherrod E. Skinner, Jr.
“It’s one of those places I will look back on with fond memories,” Matczak said. “Many of my closest friends to this day are from Milton. I loved the experience.”
During his time at Milton, Matczak served as captain of both the baseball and hockey teams, won the top athletic award at Milton, the Robert Saltonstall Medal, and the Flood Shield award, which is one of the top two major honors handed out in the Independent School League (ISL), among other honors.
Reaping the benefits from his hard work, Matczak was humbled by the accolades, but that is not what he will take from the whole experience. “I’m not so much caught up in the rewards as my overall time there. Twenty years from now I’ll probably forget about the awards, anyway,” he said.
Going away to school at such a young age was an eye-opener for Matczak. “I started to gain some independence being away from home and learning to do things on my own.” As a professional hockey player living on his own, Matczak had to come to terms with a new form of reality. No dining halls!
“You know, you just can’t crawl out of bed and have breakfast made for you,” Matczak said with a laugh, “or go have lunch at the dining hall where the food is already made for you.”
Cooking and going to the grocery store have taken the place of studying and homework for Matczak, but he noted that, while he and roommate Brett Clarke do go out to eat at times, he likes to stay in and cook to save money.
In addition, Matczak said that being out of college has allowed him more time for other things, too. “It’s given me the opportunity to, and this is a typical Ivy League answer, read some more,” he said.
Majoring in political science while at Yale, Matczak said that, while he is not overly political, he does keep up with the latest news on the internet. For now, though, hockey is the only career that Matczak is concerned with, although he envisions himself as a coach and a teacher down the road.
Matczak says that today’s politicians can take a page from sports teams and learn what teamwork is all about. “I think like anything in life, it’s all about getting together, communicating, hearing each other’s side and hopefully work things out. Life lessons all around,” he said.
After Matczak’s season wrapped up with Yale this past spring, the AHL came calling. Literally.
“I woke up on Saturday morning in my bed at school to a call from my agent,” Matczak said. “He said, ‘Hey, you have to get to Glen Falls tonight. You’re playing tonight for the Phantoms.’” After throwing down breakfast, Matczak packed his bag and found a ride to Glen Falls.
The good news for Matczak is that, growing up, he was a fan of the Philadelphia Flyers, and the Phantoms are their affiliate. Playing in four games for the Phantoms, Matczak said it was a great experience. “It was a great week. Just to see the level of competition and how talented the players are and how hard they prepare at that level was amazing.”
Matczak has scored eight goals and added 15 assists in 34 games so far this year, his first full season as a pro. “It’s been great so far. We have a lot of veteran guys on the team, which helps a lot in learning the nuances of the game,” Matczak said.
One big difference for him this season is the length of the season. “It’s a long season. Something I am not used to ,” he said. “Our regular season was 29 games, as compared to 72 here (ECHL). So I’m making sure I am taking care of my body to prepare for the long haul.”