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Kevin Kurk Enjoys Daily Trip to Houston

By Jawad Beg

Game Program, December 5, 2003

Growing up in Orchard Park, N.Y., hockey quickly became an influence upon Kevin Kurk straight from the get-go. The close proximity of the National Hockey League's Buffalo Sabres was just one of the reasons the 6'4" Rensselaer netminder took up the game.

"My dad had played sports back when he was in high school and college and he was a Sabres fan his whole life. We used to always have tickets for them," Kurk reminisced. "So, I've been around hockey my whole life."

It was a natural progression for the current senior on the Engineers squad to start playing. "Out of the three sports that I played (baseball and lacrosse) it was my favorite one. Going to the Sabres games, being around the rink and around teammates, you know, it seemed a little closer knit than the other sports. I knew that if I had to concentrate on one, it had to be hockey."

Kurk's initial stab at the game landed him on the blueline as a defenseman - a role that would change rather quickly. "Yeah, I wasn't very good at that," he said, cracking a smile. "I just always liked watching the goalies at the Sabres games and when I had my chance to go in goal, [the coaches] stuck me in there and, well, I've been there ever since!"

He continued to enhance his game by playing year-round and, despite the time spent at the rink; he continued to keep his grades up through middle school and high school. Everything seemed to be clicking at the time and it was easy motivation for him to continue playing in the junior hockey leagues.

"The town I played youth hockey in, they had the junior team and those were the guys we always looked up to. They played twenty minute periods, they got treated real well - it was like a little NHL," he joked. "That was another reason why I wanted to play."

The transition into the junior leagues, as expected, was a little tough as far as competition was concerned, but Kurk's stint with the Thornhill Rattlers proved to be a success for him. "It was just about hard work. I mean, that's all you can really do. After that, it's really up to the coach as to what to do," he bluntly stated, regarding playing time.

With his aspirations to pursue hockey, Kurk's primary intent of playing in the junior leagues was to play on the collegiate level. "Once you start playing in junior hockey your goal is to pretty much to gain a scholarship to college. You're not looking to jump up to the pros or anything. I never really even thought about the pros. I just wanted to get a scholarship to a Division I school." Little did he know at the time that his dream would become a reality.

Rensselaer coaches began to approach Kurk for the possibility of a spot on the Engineers roster soon thereafter. Although the offer was tempting, Kurk did not commit immediately. "I didn't choose right away because I wanted to make sure it was the right choice. I went on all the visits [to other schools] and I came here, and I thought it was the best," he recalled. "It's a great hockey program and there's a lot of tradition."

The fact that he didn't have to sit behind a senior did not hurt, either. "Getting the chance to play right off the bat, with two freshmen, was a big factor in coming here. (RPI was also recruiting Kurk's current roommate, Nathan Marsters, at the time). I thought that was kind of unique for this school and it seemed like where I wanted to be."

With the privilege of playing for Rensselaer's hockey program also came the responsibility of handling its rigorous educational offerings. "At first I was kind of blown away with the amount of homework," Kurk said. "Then I had to realize I had to be at the rink for four or five hours and then go home and do more work. It was a bit overwhelming." Fortunately, he learned how to adapt and effectively began to budget his time between hockey and academics for the better. "I've become so good with time management that it's not a problem anymore," he admitted.

On the ice, Kurk immediately noticed a few distinguishable factors that clearly separated college hockey from the junior leagues. "Back in juniors there were a couple of stragglers on the teams but here, everyone is a possible threat. That's the biggest difference, I think."

Although many of the starts freshman year went to Marsters, Kurk has never felt bitterness towards his teammate. "You can't really let any of that stuff get to your head," he said. "I don't really worry about who's going in net. That's a coach's decision only. I just go out there and work as hard as I can and ... it'll eventually work out."

In his sophomore year, Kurk attained more starts and posted very respectable stats. He had a 2.91 goals against average, was named ECAC Goalie of the Week twice, and was the Rensselaer HSBC Holiday Tournament Most Valuable Player. He never allowed the attention from the awards and honors to get to his head. "You can get 'Goalie of the Week' five times, or whatever, in the beginning of the year and then tattle off in the end of the year and it wouldn't really mean anything. It doesn't really affect what I'm doing. I don't stroll into the rink going, 'Hey, I'm Goalie of the Week' or anything. I mean you feel good about it when you hear about it but it doesn't mean all that much."

As the second to last line of defense, Engineers' captain Scott Basiuk is very comfortable with either goaltender in net. Basiuk, a classmate of Kurk's, was very appreciative of the way his confidence in himself and maturity on the ice has excelled. "He has really improved at taking criticism on the ice and his mental approach of the game," Basiuk observed. Off the ice, Basiuk admires Kurk's worth ethic and labels him as "one of the brightest people I know."

Mikael Hammarstrom, an RPI forward and fellow senior, described Kurk as a natural jokester and a guy with whom anyone could get along. "There's not a moment that goes by where he isn't joking around or citing a line from a movie or Seinfeld," he said. However, as Hammarstrom noted, when it's game day, it's a whole different ballgame. "There'll be no more fooling around - you can just see that he's focused on the task."

Kurk follows a general routine on game day that keeps his head clear of distractions. He shows up for the pre-game skate, goes home for a nap, fits in a meal, listens to some music, and tries to avoid communication with friends from back home to enhance his attentiveness to the game. From his "long list" of pre-game superstitions, Kurk was willing to share a few. "I always put my equipment on the same way. I have the puck from my first game here that I like to touch on all my equipment, too. Also, the way I tape my stick and where I actually tape it in the locker room," he added.

When all is said and done, a performance on the ice either generates victory or frustration. "Being a goaltender you get your fair share of [criticism]. Fans are always pointing their finger at you and whatnot. You learn to deal with it, though," he said.

"Guys make mistakes and you're going to make mistakes. It all balances out. You have to cover them one time and they have to cover you another time. The cycle just goes on and on."

With last year's disappointing outcome for the team, Kurk said that the best method to overcome such difficulty was to stay positive. "You have to pick yourself up and keep going to the rink everyday. You can't dwell on the past."

With only a semester more to go on campus, Kurk is beginning to contemplate his future. "I haven't really decided if I'm going to keep playing hockey," he admitted. "I might end up doing something with my degree, too. It's up in the air until May comes."

Even to this day, Kurk always reminds himself of the experiences he went through as a youth that have led him to come to where he is now as a student-athlete. For the younger athletes out there with aspirations for pursuing their dreams of playing hockey, Kurk enthusiastically encourages everyone "to go for it."

"My advice is to keep working hard and believe in yourself. Growing up, I had so many good people tell me that I wouldn't be able to go on and other kids that they told would go to the NHL never played hockey again," he said. "You can't get caught up in what people are saying."

Amidst all the memories, both good and bad, Kurk is grateful for his time spent at Rensselaer. "There are so many great moments to name," he said. "Every day I'm glad to come to the rink. You're always hearing new jokes and hanging out with the guys - it's priceless. Every day makes me say that I'm happy to be here."