Friday, February 15, 2008
Article by Cathy Jan '09
As the Yale men’s hockey team rode the bus to New York to play Rensselaer last weekend. Blair Yaworski knew he would have a special fan waiting for him when he arrived: his sister Jodi. While Blair is a forward for Yale, Jodi plays the same position for the RPI women’s team. Despite their schools being rivals in the ECAC, Jodi has nothing but respect and admiration for her big brother. “I loved hearing our name being spoken throughout the rink when the men’s team was preparing for the Yale game’ she says. “Blair has always been an inspiration to me, although growing up, I took it more as a competition." Canadian-born,Yaworski has adopted the fierce intensity that his fellow countrymen have for the game. “Canada places a lot of national pride on the success of their hockey,” he explains.
Yaworski was given his first pair of skates before his first birthday, when he could barely walk. A year later he was skating, and joined an organized hockey team when he was four. Yaworski’s aptitude on the ice doesn’t seem to be merely a coincidence. His family is also deeply committed to the sport, and he has been enveloped by it ever since he was a toddler. His father and several uncles played in the Western Hockey League, and another uncle has donned the jerseys of the Wisconsin Badgers and the Northeastern Huskies. Yaworski’s younger sister Jodi plays as a forward for RPI. Needless to say, Yaworski has good hockey genes.
Despite his apparent talent in the rink, Yaworski didn’t stop there, As a young child, he dabbled in soccer and baseball, but his athletic prowess manifested itself in another venue: the badminton courts. When his local athletic club played host to the Canadian national training program, Yaworski hopped onboard and joined. Although badminton wasn’t given his undivided attention, he played in competitions all throughout the nation, traveling to Vancouver and Montreal for the national championships. Won an Alberta provincial doubles title. Yaworski had to give up his racket and birdie when he came to Yale, but he still plays for leisure during the summers.
For most of his youth,Yaworski was a defenseman. But at the age of 14, he was drafted by the Kamloop Blazers, a Western Hockey League team, as a forward/defenseman. Although he turned down the offer because he would’ve been ineligible to play college hockey in the US, multiple other coaches saw his knack for the position and had him train there. Today, Yaworski only thinks of himself as a forward.
Perhaps because of his background, Yaworski is one of the most versatile Bulldog players. “He’s well-rounded,” says Yale head coach Keith Allain 8o. "He’s a highly skilled player who can play in all situations. " He has the ability to take over a game when he wants to,” adds assistant coach Kyle Wallack. This hasn’t gone unnoticed by his teammates, who depend on his fast skating and ability to win face-offs. “His puck-handling is exceptional and his vision on the ice is sublime" extols Greg Beller, a sophomore forward.
Through his hard work and training, Yaworski is seldom confused by situations on the ice. When faced with a defenseman, he keeps his calm, then either beats the opposing player with his strength or skates away by making quick moves around him. “He is a role model to everyone, especially his youngest fans who have fallen in love with his charisma and charm, his strength and power, and the success where hard work has taken him" says Jodi Yaworski.
While playing in Canada, Yaworski gathered honor after honor. He was selected to the Program of Excellence Alberta Cup and was sixth on the team in scoring. When he was a member of the Calgary Canucks, one of the most celebrated franchises in the Alberta Junior Hockey League, he was selected to compete for a handful of spots at the 2001 World U-17 Challenge.
After high school, Yaworski spent one year playing for the Sioux City Musketeers, a United States Hockey League team based in Sioux City, Iowa. He scored 14 goals and added 18 assists. He earned the team’s Fastest Skater Award and was selected to play in the 2004 USHL Prospect All- Star Game.
Then Yaworski began to examine his options for the future. Despite wanting to stay in his home country, he ultimately realized that his goal of playing professional hockey would better be attained in the U.S. “I did not feel that the Canadian system catered to my desires, which is why I’m south of the border,” he explains.
While several schools with historically dominant hockey programs recruited Yaworski, including other Ivy League universities, the eclectic group of people associated with Yale won him over. “I enjoyed my experience visiting the campus and with various students and faculty" he says. Yaworski has never regretted his decision. As soon as he stepped onto campus, he was enveloped into the tight knit community that is Yale men’s hockey. He is extremely thankful for the tremendous friendship and support that he has received, especially from his fellow senior teammates, all of whom have made his years at Yale more than he ever hoped for. “It extends from the immediate players and coaches, to the athletics department, parents, alumni, and fans,” he says.
Another reason Yaworski chose Yale is for the academics. Although undecided on his major as a freshman, after pushing through the introductory economics courses, he became fascinated with the field. His favorite class has been Professor Henry Bolanos’ Creativity and New Product Development, which requires students to develop a product in a competitive marketplace.
Coming into Yale, Yaworski played in every game of his freshman season. In the first period of the first game of his college career, against Alabama-Huntsville, he scored a goal. He went on to score four more goals and add 13 assists, including several games where he tallied multiple points. At the end of the year, Yaworski’s 18 points placed him at the top of the freshman class. While the Bulldogs’ record left something to be desired, Yaworski was quickly becoming a standout.
As a sophomore, Yaworski’s 10 assists placed him fifth on the team. He scored four goals, including a pair in one weekend against Princeton and Quinnipiac. In 2006-07, Yaworski played in 22 games and tallied eight points. He scored a goal at Harvard and had two assists against Mercyhurst. In one week, he had three points in games at Quinnipiac and against Union. He also excelled in the classroom and was named to the Academic All-ECAC team.
After graduation, Yaworski is looking to play for a professional team. While the ultimate goal is the NHL, he knows he may make stops in the American Hockey League or the East Coast Hockey League first.
But for now, Yaworski needs to put his team first and foremost, “To help my hockey team succeed, I need to play with passion and desire when I’m given the chance" he says. The Bulldogs axe coming off a weekend of two tough games that ended in ties. As they gain momentum and confidence, the team will be looking to Yaworski’s skill and consistency as they make a run for the ECAC Championship.