By Joshua Boyd / USPHLPremier.com
Zachary Gmerek certainly has good memories of his time in the state of Florida.
After all, he and his Charlotte Rush teammates went there in December and swept the USPHL Florida Showcase with a 4-0 record. Just a few weeks later and on the other side of New Year’s Day 2023, they swept the USPHL Tampa Showcase, again going 4-0.
And that’s where Nichols College comes into the picture.
“Nichols first reached out to me in early January, following my team’s success of an 8-0 record combined in both Florida showcases we played in,” said Gmerek, an ‘02 defenseman from Pittsford, N.Y., who played the last two seasons with the Rush. “The coaches liked my ability to move the puck well, defend hard, and execute on breakouts.”
When looking at Nichols, Gmerek saw a program that has made the NCAA tournament three times in the last 10 years, including three Commonwealth Coast Conference playoff championships and two regular season titles. Coming from a Rush team that has been a regular at USPHL Nationals every season. It is also a small college in rural Dudley, Mass., where the focus is on a close student-to-professor ratio.
“I was immediately drawn to Nichols. Academically, Nichols is an excellent business school which will help provide the groundwork as I pursue a degree in Law following my time at Nichols,” Gmerek said, adding his major will be Business-Economics. “Combined with a great coaching staff, I felt that I would be given an opportunity to help make an impact right away on the ice.
“When I visited campus, I loved it right away,” said Gmerek. “I’m a huge fan of the smaller sized classes and immense number of resources that Nichols provides to allow students to thrive in their studies. When I was offered by Coach [Alex] Gacek, there was little hesitation on my behalf. I knew I wanted to attend Nichols and was quick to commit and lock in my next four years.”
Gmerek is part of a quartet of 2022-23 Rush who are headed to Nichols together for next season, joining fellow defenseman Dylan Ray, goaltender Nick Anderson and forward Aidan Flynn.
“I couldn’t be more excited to head to school with those guys. Dylan and I have played a ton of minutes together over my two years in junior in front of Nick Anderson,” said Gmerek. “I think the chemistry already developed between us three will be a huge help on the back end going into our first year of school. Aidan Flynn is also a great player who I think will be a key player up front right away.”
He’s not surprised that these four players are being taken up to the NCAA level from an organization such as the Rush.
“I loved Charlotte. The intense culture of always doing the right things in all aspects of life really helped mold my character and values in a positive way,” said Gmerek, who registered 32 points in a combined 82 regular season games over the last two seasons, including 21 points in 42 regular season contests this past season. He helped the Rush make their third straight trip to at least the National semifinals, and second trip to the Finals in three years.
“Charlotte is also an amazing place to help younger players looking to get better and move onto the next level. Playing in Charlotte really helped mold the defensive part of my game. We focused on clean breakouts and puck possession, which was huge in the development of my defensive zone play.”
He believes that playing against such strong competition in the USPHL Premier’s Southeast Division, as well as against some of the strongest teams league-wide in showcases and in the last two Nationals, helps make him more NCAA-ready.
“I think the USPHL is a great place for players looking to move on to NCAA hockey,” said Gmerek. “I feel extremely prepared going into my freshman year because of the two years I played in it.”
As with so much of life, nothing is given, everything is earned and so part of earning his time on ice with Nichols will be a strenuous off-season of preparation.
“I’m working on putting on some size and getting stronger,” he said. “It’s going to be a heavier and faster game and I’m looking to be able to keep up with both the speed and size of the older players.”
The USPHL congratulates Zac Gmerek, his family, the Charlotte Rush and Nichols College for his commitment.