Another Valasek heading to Mercyhurst to play hockey
Kevin Valasek's graduation and departure for college a year ago broke up one of the most formidable scoring tandems in Ford City hockey history.
Jesse Valasek, Kevin's younger brother and currently a Ford City senior, plans to do his part to get the goal-scoring duo back together.
His time with the Sabers complete, Jesse will continue his career at Mercyhurst, where Kevin competed this winter for the Lakers in the Division I tier of the American Collegiate Hockey Association, a highly competitive national club league.
A reunion with Kevin appealed to Jesse. But that possibility alone did not sway the Sabers senior, who identified Mercyhurst's public health major as the main reason he chose the university.
“I've enjoyed playing with him for all the years we've gotten to play together,” Jesse said. “People might say, ‘Oh, you're following your brother to Mercyhurst.' And I say, ‘No, I'm going there because that's what I want and because of what I'm going for.' It's not because he's there. But him being there is a bonus.”
Jesse's high school career concluded with a PIHL Open Class championship. He led the Sabers with 83 points (46 goals, 37 assists) in 22 games.
A Valasek atop the scoring leaders was nothing new. In 2011-12, Kevin finished first in points, and Jesse was close behind. The season before that, Kevin was No. 1, and Jesse came in third. Someone other than a Valasek last led Ford City in points during the 2008-09 season (R.C. Double).
Mercyhurst might have to prepare for a similar Valasek reign, but Jesse first must go through tryouts and make the team.
Kevin had 18 goals and 13 assists to finish fifth among the Lakers with 31 points this season. The older brother acknowledged that an adjustment period might precede any breakout performances for Jesse.
“The speed is just so much faster,” Kevin said. “The guys are bigger, stronger. ... It took me a little bit of time to adjust. But I adapted pretty quickly I think. And my brother probably won't have a problem, either.”
Athletically mature players are only part of the college experience. Practices that start just days after freshmen arrive on campus and continue daily through September demand a dedication and intensity that even the Valaseks' amateur travel team, the Mid State Mustangs, rarely required.
Jesse understands what lies ahead. He watched at least five Mercyhurst games this season, and he has witnessed a few practices, too. And Mercyhurst coach Tom McKinnon made more of an effort to entice Jesse to come than any other bench boss, the senior said.
Even though it's a club team — players pay dues and don't receive scholarships — it's a welcome challenge for Jesse, especially when paired with his education plans.
“I did think about Juniors for a little bit,” he said. “But I think ultimately it came down to whether I thought I'd make it far in my hockey career. I eventually came to realize that education might be more important, so I didn't want education be my ‘Plan B.'
“In my younger years, I was a little more optimistic and just kind of thinking hockey, hockey, hockey like I wanted to make it to the NHL. But as you grow older you become more realistic. And me and my brother always talked about playing at a higher level together on the same line. And at college at Mercyhurst, that's something that might come true.”