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Yurkewecz Fulfilling Dream at RPI

By Ed Weaver

Troy Record, December 26, 2005

TROY - The stat sheet says Mark Yurkewecz may be a good choice for a healthy scratch when Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute hockey coach Dan Fridgen wants to make sure each forward is getting some ice time.

Game tapes say otherwise. The hard-working senior left winger, who's scored only four goals in 82 career games, is too valuable; he brings too much strong play to the lineup.

Few players in RPI history have loved the Engineers as much as Yurkewecz. The Amsterdam native's father Tom worked at the school and took his son to most home games.

"I've been a fan ever since I was three years old," Yurkewecz said after a recent workout at Houston Field House. "I can remember falling asleep on my mom (Maureen) and dad's laps in the second period."

Yurkewecz is a solid defensive forward but certainly is not an overly physical player. Curiously, though, rugged enforcer type players such as Bruce Coles and Kelly Askew were among his favorite RPI players.

"I loved watching Bruce Coles beat up on guys, and Kelly Askew," he said.

"And of course, the greats," he added. "(Joe) Juneau was great. Alain St. Hilaire was unbelievable."

Yurkewecz played two years at Cushing Academy but he's spent the remainder of his amateur career near his home area, having also played at Troy Academy and for the Capital District Selects junior team.

His hockey life took on a major upturn, though, on Oct. 11, 2002 when he put on an RPI uniform for the first time.

"It's one of those things you think about a lot but you can't really describe the feeling," he said.

One week later, Yurkewecz took to the Houston Field House ice as an Engineer, during a game, for the first time. He gulped as he remembered.

"Walking down the tunnel for the first time," he said, "hearing the band play and knowing you're wearing that jersey is something I can never forget. It was wonderful."

Yurkewecz had to break into laughter when he was asked to recall his first shift as an RPI player.

"Do we really need to talk about that?" he asked. "It was at Wisconsin, I got scored on my first shift."

A quick glance at the 2002-03 results chart showed that, seconds after Yurkewecz and his linemates hit the ice, Wisconsin defenseman Tom Gilbert scored. It was the Badgers' only goal, though, as the Engineers posted a 5-1 victory.

Back to that first appearance at the Field House.

"My first shift at home was against UMass-Lowell," Yurkewecz continued. "I was just in awe. I never had so much energy in my life. The game just went by like that. Unbelievable."

As mentioned, Yurkewecz doesn't have great offensive skills. So, he literally has to be a little better at other phases of the game.

"I think if I can go out and play a consistent hockey game, at both ends of the ice," he said, "do all the little things, and then try to step up and make a few big plays on defense and maybe create some offense to help wear down (the opposing) defense ... "if I can play that type of game, I can help the team and come off the ice happy at the end of the night."

When it comes to scoring among all forward lines, the Engineers are one of the least-balanced teams in the nation.

Yurkewecz doesn't worry much about that. "If we (others) can bring that (above described style) to the table, guys like Crox (Kevin Croxton), Oren (Eizenman) and Jonny (Jonathan Ornelas) can take care of the rest. That's what makes a good team. Not everybody can be a scorer."

Yurkewecz tallied an empty-net goal in Game 4 at Northeastern last season but it had been 56 games since he put a shot past an opposing goalie when he beat Merrimack goalie Jim Healey on Oct. 29 of this year.

"That felt good," he said. "It's one of those things that, like I said, over the course of my career here, I just try to go out and concentrate on playing a sound, consistent game but whenever you can step up and do that, it certainly feels good, not so much for myself, not so much for yourself, but for the team ... because that's not exactly what's expected of you."

Yurkewecz could have played in the Engineers previous game against Rochester Institute of Technology but he was a little dinged up and sat out the game.

He became more and more frustrated as the game developed into a shootout, won by the Engineers, 10-7.

"Definitely, definitely - absolutely," he said. "Watching from up there was tough. I wanted to be out there, big time."

The Engineers next see action on Thursday against Miami University, the nation's No. 2-ranked team, in the Ohio State Tournament. After that event, it's back to ECAC Hockey League action.

Rensselaer has just one league loss (2-1-3) and first-place (percentage-wise) Colgate is the only other team with fewer than two losses.

"I love where we are right now," he said. "To be able to get to the Pepsi (Arena, for the ECACHL semifinals), and then I think we'd have a shot from there. Just to be there."

"I love this team," he said. "I've never had so much fun playing hockey since I was a kid in my back yards skating around on the rink my dad built me."