The EUHL tries to create a positive environment for athletes where they can develop their dual careers and be successful in both, sport and education, as it works in the USA. We did an interview with a Slovak ice hockey player, participant of two U20 World Championships, Marek Korenčik, who studies at the University of Massachusetts Lowell and plays for its team in the NCAA at the same time.
Marek Korenčik started his ice hockey career in his hometown Žilina, from where he moved to the junior team of Swedish Luleå. He did not continue to the senior team in the SHL, and he had to decide what to do next. His next steps led him to the USA in summer 2019. He started to study Business marketing at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. The 22 years old defenseman is currently finishing his bachelor’s degree while playing in the NCAA. You will get to know why he decided to come to the USA, the system of the championship there, the conditions he has in his team, how it is with playing ice hockey and studying at the same time, and his thoughts about the EUHL in this interview.
Why did you decide to continue your career in the US?
I was deciding what to do next after I finished my stay in Sweden. I have always known that school is very important, and I wanted to get a good quality education, however, I also still wanted to play ice hockey and improve my skills in this sport. The university was the best solution. Therefore, I came here.
What do you think about the university ice hockey system there?
It is something incredible. It must be something unbelievable for people from Europe, even if they work in the ice hockey environment. Conditions are great, the best I have ever experienced in my career. I cannot compare it to Europe, because I have never played in any professional league there, but it is better than in the junior team in Luleå and for example, our dressing room is even bigger than the one Luleå’s A-team had in the SHL.
Tell me more about your conditions?
We have our own sauna, bath with cold water, jacuzzi, large gym, video room, relaxing area with couches and screens, small kitchen, and so on. Everything I mentioned is part of our dressing room in the stadium.
How many people come to watch your home games?
The capacity of the stadium is for 6500 visitors. On average, there are three and a half thousand people at our home matches. When we play against our rivals, sometimes it is also sold out and the atmosphere is amazing. Students from our university have free entrance and their own sector. Except for them, you can see family members and the general public at the stands. The highest number of visitors is the general public.
Explain to me the playing system of your competition.
There are six conferences throughout the US, but a few teams are not part of any of them. These conferences are not made mainly by the location, but it also depends on the quality of the team and historical status. There are three conferences in the East, ours is called Hockey East. Our games are played on Fridays and Saturdays. There are eleven teams at our table and we play against six of them twice and against four clubs three times. The regular season has just finished, and we took second place. We are waiting for the play-off now that is played only within our conference. The next stage is the national play-off where you can see the winners of each conference’s play-offs in the US and the rest of the teams are chosen by a national ranking.
How is it with your studies while playing ice hockey?
I cannot compare it to Europe. We have trainings in the morning and classes in the afternoon. It is great because I am done with everything related to ice hockey by lunchtime and I can focus on my studies then. Everyone can make their schedules how it suits them. There are plenty of time and day opportunities for each subject, so we can do both, studying and doing sports without any overlapping.
What about the advantages you have as a sportsman?
There are no remissions for us. The only pross we got is that we can sign up for subjects and create our schedules one day in advance than the rest of the students, so we can set everything according to the ice hockey responsibilities. We also get a sport scholarship.
Do you have any GPA (Grade Point Average) you have to keep to be able to play in the team?
Yes, we do. It is a 2,4 GPA at our university. If there is someone under this rate, he cannot play any games until he improves his school results.
Have you already heard about the EUHL?
Yes, of course. I did an interview for HC UNIZA before they joined the competition a year ago. I hope the EUHL will be constantly improving and information about it will spread to the general public.
What do you think about this project?
I came to the US because I got recommendations about great conditions for education and sport. I have been saying for a long time that all sportsmen should be also educated because you never know what can happen. It is important to have critical thinking and be successful also outside of the sports area. Therefore, I think the EUHL is a great idea. It is kind of a copy of the NCAA and I hope it will come closer and closer to the system I know from the US.
Do you think the system in Europe can reach the one in the USA?
I definitely see the potential there. If it works in the US, why would it not in Europe? If you see things with foresight, money is the biggest issue while financing in the NCAA is set perfectly and works great. As long as the European universities will not provide a huge amount of money, better players will not join it and the league will not increase its quality. It takes time, as it did to create the working system in the US.
Would you recommend the EUHL to anyone who wants to study and play ice hockey at the same time?
I would recommend it for players who know they will not become professionals and that ice hockey will not be their main source of income. This project is a connection of this sport and education, and you never know when you need it in the future. On the other hand, if there are prospective players who have a chance to become professionals and play at a high level, the EUHL has not reached the quality level of the top men’s competitions throughout Europe yet. I hope this changes in the future.
The author of the photos: Marek Korenčik