Eagle River hockey player wins Canadian national title
Not many people can call themselves national champions. Zach Plucinski can do it in two countries.
On Sunday, April 29, the 17-year-old from Eagle River scored the first goal in the Notre Dame Hounds’ 5-1 win over Quebec’s Cantonniers de Magog in the final of the Telus Cup, Canada’s national Midget (18U) hockey championship.
“It was a really big goal,” Plucinski said Thursday by phone from Wilcox, Saskatchewan, where he attends the College of Notre Dame, an elite prep school known for turning out high-caliber hockey talent.
He said the strike came as the result of a bit of a busted play behind the net, with the puck “fluttering” onto his stick in front of the goal. After his one-timer hit the net, Plucinski said he wasn’t quite sure how to celebrate his first-period strike — even as he was mobbed by his teammates.
“I was kinda stunned, actually,” he said.
The Hounds rolled after Plucinski get things going, getting a hat trick from Luke Mylymok, a power-play goal by Ethan Ernst and 29 saves from Aaron Randazzo.
The victory was the second national championship for Plucinski, a member of the Mustang Hockey Association Alaska Blue Devils team that won a USA Hockey PeeWee Tier II national championship in 2012. Plucinski also has an Alaska state high school championship on his resume — Chugiak’s 2017 Class 4A championship.
Although his two previous championships were pretty big deals, Plucinski said playing in the Telus Cup at the Sudbury Community Arena was a different kind of cool.
“It was just a great atmosphere,” he said of the title game, which was televised nationally in Canada.
Hearing the likes of famed TV hockey announcer Don Cherry talk about the team was a bit surreal, he said. So was the airport experience dad Tim Plucinski had on his way back home after attending the championship game.
“He’s walking by this bar and he sees video of Zach shooting and scoring,” said Heather Plucinski, Zach’s mom.
The victory capped a 20-0 postseason for the Hounds, who won their record fifth national championship in 11 title game appearances.
Plucinski grew up playing youth hockey in Chugiak-Eagle River. Hiis mom, Heather, said he learned the game under the tutelage of Blue Devils coach Pete McEnaney.
“He had Coach McEnaney since he was 4 years old,” she recalled.
After his time with the Blue Devils, Plucinski played for the Alaska Oilers under former UAA standout Merit Waldrop and at Chugiak High for longtime head coach Rodney Wild.
“For a kid like that to go farther I think it is a good reflection of the coaching we have here in Alaska,” Heather Plucinski said.
Plucinski isn’t the Hounds’ only Alaska connection — head coach Jeremy Mylymok (Luke’s dad) was a hard-hitting defenseman for UAA from 1992-96. Mylymok went on to a 17-year professional career that concluded with a six-year stint with the Idaho Steelheads, during which he captained the Steelheads to the ECHL’s 2004 Kelly Cup. In 2008, the Steelheads retired his jersey.
Mylymok’s wife, Darlene, is a Service High grad, and the couple got married in Alaska. The family visits every summer to visit, said Mylymok, an avid fisherman who enjoys spending time on the Kenai River with the couple’s two sons.
Mylymok said Plucinski was a key part of the team’s success and praised the defenseman for improving throughout the season.
“His best hockey was at the end of the year and the playoffs,” Mylymok said of Plucinski, who also scored a goal in the Hounds’ 3-2 semifinal win over the Toronto Young Nationals.
Mylymok described Plucinski as a physical defenseman and skilled skater who “turned himself into a true Division I prospect.”
“He was a difference-maker out there using his size and strength,” he said of the 6-foot-1, 185-pound blueliner, who scored seven goals and had 28 assists while playing in a team-high 44 games during the regular season.
Mylymok said his Alaska ties “helped out big time” in bringing Plucinski to Saskatchewan. He thinks more players from the 49th state have the ability to play at an elite level Outside.
“We hope to bring more of them here,” he said.
Besides his mom and dad, Zach’s grandfather and an uncle attended the tournament. Their presence was special, Heather Plucinski said, because Zach’s grandmother passed away the week before the tournament and he was unable to get away for the funeral.
“He actually played in honor of her,” she said.
The tournament was made even more emotional for Plucinski and his teammates, whose campus in Wilcox is 170 miles south of Humboldt — home of the Broncos, a Junior A team involved in a horrific bus crash last month that killed16 people and injured 13.
“It hit really close to home for us,” said Plucinski, whose teammate Drew Englot lost his cousin, Adam Herold, in the crash.
Plucinski said the Hounds honored the Broncos at the tournament. “We had a banner in our locker room that said ‘Humboldt Lives Here,’” he said.
Plucinski is still finishing his junior year of high school in Canada, where the school year runs through June. He said he plans to return to Eagle River for the summer, weigh his options at the more advanced Junior A level.
Wherever he ends up next season, Plucinski said he’s proud of his accomplishments during his first season away from home.
“I was really happy with the way I played,” he said.
Email Star editor Matt Tunseth at [email protected] or call (907) 257-4274.