Men's hockey captain Harry Zolnierczyk '11 was named the Ivy League Player of the Year yesterday, one day before the Bears travel to Quinnipiac for a best-of-three series in the first round of the ECAC playoffs.
"It's definitely a great honor to win that award and be even mentioned in the same category as some of the hockey players that have won it in the past," Zolnierczyk said.
Zolnierczyk is just the fourth player in Brown history to take home the award, putting him in an elite group of Bears with Mike Brewer '92, Ryan Mulhern '96 and Yann Danis '04. Mulhern and Denis went on to play in the NHL.
"The Ivy League has been around for a long time, and there have been some very, very good players that have come through," said Head Coach Brendan Whittet '94. "I think that leaves him in the upper echelon of players that have worn the Brown uniform. He's in that elite tier of player."
NHL teams seem to think so, too. Professional scouts have come to watch him play, and several NHL franchises are expected to give Zolnierczyk — an undrafted college free agent — offers after the season ends.
"I think he plays a style and a game that's going to translate well to the next level," Whittet said. "He's going to have a lot of different opportunities as soon as our season ends with ... NHL teams that are in line to try to bid for his services. He's a free agent, which is a great position for Harry to be in."
Whittet said his captain's tenacity and skating ability are already at a professional level.
"He can skate like a National Hockey League player right now," Whittet said. "He's an absolute effortless skater and a powerful kid in terms of his ability to get up and down the ice. The other thing he does very well is that he's a fearless kid. He'll go to the areas that he needs to go to in order to score goals — to score gritty goals, to pick up rebounds. You take a beating when you're in that area, but he's willing to do that, and that's a pretty special attribute."
Zolnierczyk has registered a team-high 31 points and 16 goals so far this season, eight of which were against Ivy League opponents — more than any other player in the league. One of those goals came in the final minute of a game against then-No. 1 Yale to give Brown a 3-2 upset Jan. 16.
Zolnierczyk credited the support of his family and coaches throughout his career — from junior league to summer workout programs — with giving him the opportunity to be the player he has become.
"The support of your family and friends helps you get through the tough times that come along with hockey and everything you deal with in life," Zolnierczyk said.
Zolnierczyk had to deal with two nearly goal-less seasons early in his career at Brown. He didn't score his first goal until the very end of his sophomore season but then exploded for 30 goals in his final two years.
"I've definitely made some big strides my last couple of years at Brown," Zolnierczyk said. "It took me a little while to kind of figure out college hockey. Recently, I've been playing a little bit more of a bigger role on the team. I think I just started to run with that and make good with the chances that I've had."
"The strides he's made and has been able to make are a tribute to him and his work ethic," Whittet said. "He's worked hard for the accolades he's now reaping and the future that he hopefully has post-Brown."
Zolnierczyk was also named first team All-Ivy. Defenseman Dennis Robertson '14, who was named to the second team, was the only other Bear to receive All-Ivy honors. Robertson contributed on both sides of the ice during his rookie campaign. As a member of the first-line defense for most of the season, Robertson scored six goals and was especially potent on the power play.
"Dennis came in as a freshman, and he certainly doesn't play like a freshman," Whittet said. "He is an elite-level defenseman in the east and in the country right now. … He's been an absolute revelation, not just for us, but for, I would imagine, the ECAC and NCAA hockey."