Matt Zdanowicz always knew he wanted to become a hockey player.
Zdanowicz caught hockey fever when he was just four years old and he attended his older brother Mike’s birthday party. Of course, it was held at a hockey rink.
“It was my first time on skates,” said Zdanowicz, the St. Peter’s Prep senior hockey sensation. “It was very hard for me to skate. But I always thought that I could try to skate.”
Matt Zdanowicz wasn’t very good on skates when he first started some 14 years ago, but he gradually got better. And no matter what, no matter how many times Matt might have fallen down learning how to skate and how to become a hockey player, he always had a broad, bright smile on his face.
“I’m always smiling,” Zdanowicz said. “I just like having fun, having fun with my friends, laughing. It’s fun to play hockey and I love playing. I just realized that I liked playing hockey at a young age and I wanted to see how far it would take me.”
Zdanowicz wasn’t an instant success with the Marauders when he arrived at Grand and Warren. In fact, he scored only two goals as a freshman and had just three more as a sophomore. So he wasn’t exactly setting the world on fire with his play on the ice.
When he entered his junior year with the Marauders, he noticed the banner that hangs on the wall of the Prep gym, a banner that features all the former Marauder players to reach the lofty 100-point milestone.
“I just said to myself, ‘How cool would it be if I could get my name up there?’” Zdanowicz said. “Maybe I could do the same. It turned out to be a personal goal.”
It was a pretty lofty one for someone who had all of 14 points for his first two seasons with the Marauders.
But veteran St. Peter’s Prep head coach Ken Such believed that Zdanowicz could become a solid scorer.
“Matty is such a strong skater,” Such said. “He knows the game so well and goes hard to the net. I think Matty benefitted from having strong teammates who were able to get him the puck. And he loves having the puck on his stick.”
As his junior year’s statistics prove, Zdanowicz also loves to shoot the puck – into the opposing goal. He scored 27 goals last season as the premier left wing on the Marauders’ roster. He also added 14 assists.
When the 2018-2019 season began in November, Such told Zdanowicz that he needed him to take on a different role, that being a playmaker.
“My concern was whether Matty could do the job,” Such said. “It was rather a big adjustment for him, but he handled it well. He’s become more of a complete player. He knew that he had teammates that could finish, so he didn’t have to worry about scoring as much.”
Zdanowicz, one of the captains on the Marauders’ roster, didn’t mind the different role.
“Going into the season, I realized that I could make some plays and that would help the team,” Zdanowicz said. “I’ve always been a player who looks to make the play first before shooting. If I can’t make the play, then I shoot it, but I’m a pass first kind of guy. I think the success I had last year helped me as an overall player coming into this year. I can see the ice different, see things I never saw before. If I distribute the puck more, I’d be a better player.”
Zdanowicz had a great span of games recently for the Marauders. He scored three goals (one of his four hat tricks on the season) and added an assist against Gloucester Catholic, scored a goal in two straight games against Don Bosco Prep, added a goal and an assist against Hunterdon Central and had a three-goal explosion against St. Joseph of Montvale in the second round of the NJSIAA Non-Public state playoffs in a 6-4 Marauder victory.
For his efforts, Zdanowicz has been selected as the Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Week for the past week.
More importantly, the second goal against St. Joseph’s gave Zdanowicz 100 points for his career, so his name will be added to the banner that hangs in the gym.
“I had a bunch of people say to me that they wanted to see if they spelled my name right on the banner,” said Zdanowicz, who became the first Marauder player to reach 100 points since Sean Crowley did it in 2015. “It’s a great thing. If I ever have a kid, I could bring him back to Prep and he can see my name on the wall.”
The Marauders’ season ended with a loss to Delbarton in the quarterfinals of the state tournament, so Zdanowicz’s playing days are done. He doesn’t know what he wants to do in terms of college. He would like to study engineering and has applied to a host of top schools like Holy Cross, Providence, UConn and Stevens Tech. If a school has a hockey program, then Zdanowicz will give it the old college try.
“It has definitely been rewarding,” Zdanowicz said. “It’s been tons of fun. Ever since I was a kid, I saw my brother play for Prep at Yankee Stadium and that was it. I wanted to do the same.”
Well, there were no trips to play outdoors at Yankee Stadium, but there were 100 points (101 to be precise) and too many smiles to count.
“The kid always has a smile on his face,” Such said. “He’s smiling all the time. Even in intense, tough games, he’s smiling. He really enjoys the game. He’s just a happy, go-lucky kind of kid with a million dollar smile.”
“Personally, if I throw a smile, then a laugh, while I’m playing, it angers people on the other team,” Zdanowicz said. “I had one team tell me to take the smile off my face or they would take it off. But I ignore all of that. I just keep smiling.”
He’s smiling all the way to the walls of the famed Prep gym. – Jim Hague
Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at OGSMAR@aol.com