MADISON — Sophomore Matt Jurusik has definitely made himself at home in net over his year-and-a-half long college hockey career, something his .887 save percentage makes clear. But when he first started playing, being a goaltender was not his first choice.
“I started skating when I was four, started playing forward when I was five [and] went to goalie when I was either six or seven. I hated defense, it was hard; scoring the puck or stopping it are my two favorite things,” said Jurusik.
When one starts organized hockey at a young age, teams tend to rotate goalies so everyone has a chance to try the position. Jurusik said his goaltending career began with his turn in the rotation.
Jurusik’s love for the game was encouraged by his family from the very beginning.
“My uncle played a bit in college and I looked up to him a lot, so that’s why I stuck with it. My dad played Division III hockey…so they [Jurusik’s parents] weren’t too hesitant [to let him play].”
Despite the overwhelming support of his family, Jurusik’s mom often has a difficult time watching her son play.
“She gets too nervous. She’ll come up to Madison, but she’ll sit in the gift shop or walk around the concourse during the game. She’s kind of a nervous wreck during games.” Jurusik continued. “I don’t know how the story goes, but there was one game she came to and I played terrible. I think she thought it was her fault or she doesn’t want to see me get beat up like that again, so now she just stays away and doesn’t watch. She follows it on Twitter and stuff. She says that’s less stressful. So it’s good that we have all the social media so she can follow without actually being in the rink and freaking out.”
As a native of LaGrange, Illinois, Jurusik’s favorite team is the Chicago Blackhawks. His love of the Blackhawks is rooted in his growing up alongside the team.
“I started playing organized hockey in ’04/’05 and that was when [The Hawks] were the worst team in all of pro-sports. As I grew up, the team grew too. They drafted Kane, Toews, and Niemi before Crawford, but they really built a solid team as I was coming up and following them. Then they won 3 Cups when I was still living in Chicago so it was awesome to see that and I got to go down to the parades and…I fell in love with them.”
Despite having not been drafted yet, when asked if he would like to play for the Blackhawks, Jurusik’s face lights up.
“Playing for the Hawks would be unreal. It would be a dream come true to play for them.”
Jurusik’s favorite players have consistently been goalies. Jurusik’s favorite player now is Carey Price from the Montreal Canadiens. He admires Price’s “rock solid” technique and loves to watch him play because Jurusik believes “he’s the best player in the whole league.”
When he was younger, Jurusik idolized Buffalo Sabres goalie Ryan Miller. He admired Miller’s “lights out every night” playing style so much so, he named his dog Miller. The one flaw of his childhood hero? “He played for Michigan State.”
When Jurusik took the ice during the Blake Geoffrion Classic this past June, he got the chance to play with legendary NHL net-minder and Wisconsin Alum, Mike Richter.
“It was fun getting to skate with him. I got a picture with him afterward and was fan-girling that whole day.”
Jurusik has a specific routine to get into his zone on game days. After his pre-game nap, Jurusik comes to the Kohl Center, gets dressed in his gear, kicks a soccer ball around, stretches and puts his skates and pads on right to left every time. Jurusik doesn’t want anything to affect his focus during the game, so he doesn’t listen to music during his pre-game routine anymore.
“I don’t want Katy Perry going in my head when I’m trying to focus on stopping the puck.”
As Jurusik puts on his game face and takes the ice, he’s always trying to think ahead of the game.
“I’ll keep an eye on where all of their guys are and try to anticipate the plays they could be making. I’ll be talking to my defensemen, telling them where guys are when a puck comes around the net. I don’t want to get a back door pass and not know where the guy is.”
In order to maintain his focus throughout all three periods, Jurusik has some sayings he says to himself during the game to “stay mentally in it.” Sorry, everyone – Jurusik says they’re “top secret.”
Another tradition Jurusik has kept since he first started playing is, before he puts his helmet on, he always makes sure to kiss the back. Jurusik says that when it comes to his helmet, he makes sure the back-plate is always done with a personal flair to portray himself and his family. This year, Jurusik has some new artwork to show off. The back-plate has the Wisconsin and Illinois state outlines on it and his “family’s initials going down the middle” including his dog Miller, who has a “little halo” over his initials.
Once he steps off the ice, Jurusik likes to watch a lot of television. “I’ve probably watched the Office four or five times through and I can quote almost every line. It’s bad.” Before he discovered the Office, he watched the show Lost around “two or three times through. When they had the writers strike after the first season, I went crazy.”
Jurusik said his guilty pleasure is watching conspiracy theory things on Netflix. “I watch JFK conspiracies and stuff on Area 51; it’s unreal. It’s really geeky, but I love it.”
The Badgers are off to Colorado this weekend. They face off against Colorado College on Friday the 25th at 8:30 pm and Dever on Saturday the 26th at 8:00 pm.