There are few honors in collegiate sports more prestigious or sought-after than All-American. It means you’ve been selected the best of the best among all athletes in the country for a particular season.
Like Heisman Trophy winner, “All-American” is a title that will forever be affixed in front of your name.
Michael Gurska, a sophomore defenseman for the Wilkes University ice hockey team and the son of Chelsea Fire Capt. Michael and Stacey Gurska, has been selected to the CCM Hockey/American Hockey Coaches Association (AHCA) All-American Team.
Gurska said he was honored to receive the award that designated him as one of the top defensemen among the 90 colleges playing Division 2-3 hockey in the United States. That’s prime-time company.
“Honestly, it’s a really cool honor,” said Gurska. “I know that I couldn’t have done it without the help of my teammates, my coaches, and my family. One of the main things we focus on at Wilkes is that the only success that really matters is our team success. While individual accomplishments are nice, we focus on how the team is doing.”
A leader on the ice
The 6-foot-1-inch, 200-pound Gurska, had plenty to do with Wilkes’ success in its only its second season as a program. He was selected a captain and wore the ‘C’ on his Wilkes hockey jersey proudly.
Gurska helped lead the Colonels to the league championship game with two goals and a nation-leading 31 assists.
“I actually got a lot of my points on the power play,” said Gurska, who twice tallied four assists in a game. “It was a lot of setting guys up, making plays, starting the breakout and making sure that we got the puck up the ice and in to the back of the other team’s net.”
One of those players he was setting up was fellow All-American Donald Flynn, the nation’s leading goal scorer – which made the phenomenal Wilkes combo of Gurska and Flynn the undisputed Orr and Esposito of college hockey this season.
“He made it so easy for me, just being able to give him [Flynn] the puck and watch him work,” said Gurska, humbly crediting his teammate.
Wilkes Coach Tyler Hynes, a former Union College player who at 26 is one of the youngest head coaches in the country, said while Gurska’s playmaking abilities were noteworthy, his leadership of the defensive corps was also crucial to the team’s success.
“Michael had a huge sophomore season,” said Hynes. “He is a definitely an offensive defenseman from the production standpoint. But a lot of times with offensive defenseman like Michael, they give up something on the defensive side, but he’s so good and so smart, that he’s able to really control the ice. He’s very cerebral, makes the right play, makes the easy play and he gets rewarded for it. He does stuff for us offensively and on the defensive end, I can’t say enough good things about him.”
Hynes said the power play, with Gurska at the top running the show and Flynn adjacent to him looking to make a play, was devastating all season.
“When we’re going on the power play, you look at both those guys and there’s a look in their eye like, Okay, it’s our time now.’ “When Michael is out there on the power play, he’s in control of what’s going on. He communicates extremely well and we can count on him in the big moments in a game.”
Hynes is happy that the team’s dynamic duo had faith in joining a fledgling men’s hockey program.
“[Former Wilkes Coach] Brett Riley did a tremendous job recruiting Michael and Donald,” said Hynes. “To get two guys who are All-Americans as sophomores to commit to a first-year program – it’s pretty incredible.”
From local ice rinks to prep school and college
Michael Gurska began his hockey career early, first stepping on to the ice at the age of three.
“My parents took me to the rink in Everett and I pretty much got on skates right then and there and I’ve really never looked back,” recalled Gurska.
He started organized play in the Everett Youth Hockey program and then competed for the Boston Junior Eagles select teams through eighth grade.
He enrolled at the Rivers School in Weston, where he played varsity hockey in an elite prep school program led by head coach Shawn McEachern, a former BU and NHL star. Rivers, with Gurska as one of the captains, advanced to the New England Prep School playoff finals.
“I had a great experience at Rivers,” said Gurska, “I really got to mature as a person and a hockey player. I made countless friendships there. I was able to transition from being a local player to putting my name out there at the prep school level, which ultimately helped me get recruited to a junior team and eventually move on to college.”
He excelled in junior hockey for two seasons with the Connecticut Junior Rangers based in Stamford.
Several college programs recruited Gurska and he chose Wilkes over Endicott, Skidmore, Southern New Hampshire, among other schools.
Gurska knows now that he made the right decision to head to Wilkes, which is located in Pennsylvnia. “I love the school. We only have about 2,500 undergraduates so it’s a close-knit community where you get to know everybody,” said Gurksa, who is majoring in Sports Management and also plays varsity golf. “All the athletes support each other and go to each other’s games. The faculty knows your names and they care about your successes. I think it’s a great place to go to school.”
This summer he hopes to return to his position of coaching high-level prep school and high school athletes at PRS, a skills development and on-ice training program led by BBN hockey coach Peter Russo.
And next season, Wilkes University, with 25 players, including Gurska returning, should be a national championship contender.
Gratitude for his parents
Michael Gurska inherited a love of sports and a competitive spirit from both sides of his family. His father, Michael, was a versatile athlete and team leader who excelled in baseball at Chelsea High School and for the Pirates in the former Chelsea Youth Baseball League that drew large crowds to Voke Park. He became a noted youth softball coach and passed on a fountain of knowledge to his teams that included his talented daughters. He has served admirably for years in the Chelsea Fire Department. Stacey Kowalski was an accomplished, award-winning dancer who trained under legendary instructor Joyce Sartorelli, owner of Broadway Dance Studio, Stacey was a popular Chelsea High School cheerleader.
Michael is also the grandson of Frank and Pat Kowalski, and Helen Gurska and the late Richard Gurska. He has three sisters, Courtney, a graduate of Endicott finishing her Master’s in Social Work this spring, Lindsay, a graduate of WPI currently working on her PhD in Cell Biology, and Meaghan, just finishing her first year at Johnson and Wales, Rhode Island. Both Lindsay and Meaghan are college softball catchers.
“I wouldn’t be anywhere without my parents,” said Michael. “All the work they’ve done for me as a person and a hockey player, I wouldn’t be in the leadership positions I am without all the lessons they’ve taught me throughout my life. I wouldn’t be on skates if it weren’t for them driving me from rink to rink every Saturday, so I had every opportunity possible.
“Sending me to Rivers when they didn’t have to, supporting my decision to pursue junior hockey – all the faith that they have put in me, and everything they’ve done for me, I’m so grateful to them for everything. And my three sisters with the success they’ve had in different fields – that pushes me to work the hardest I can.”