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Academic, hockey education

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Luke VanMoerkerke isn’t sure what he wants to be when he grows up.

But in the meantime, he’s thoroughly enjoying broadening his education while continuing to play hockey at a highly-competitive level.

“That’s very fair,” responded the 23-year-old University of Ontario Institute of Technology Ridgebacks forward following a recent game in Waterloo. “Really, at the end of the day, you’re bang on about figuring out what I want to do and having the pleasure of playing hockey while I do it.”

OUIT’s fourth goal in a 6-4 OUA road loss to Wilfrid Laurier illustrated another positive element of VanMoerkerke’s tenure with the Ridgebacks. It would be a stretch to suggest it was strictly planned, but ‘Jesse Stoughton from Luke VanMoerkerke and Matt Pasztor,’ did work out rather nicely for the Tillsonburg and Langton fans in the Sun Life Financial Arena stands.

“It’s always nice to play with someone from your hometown, well, close enough, especially at this level,” said VanMoerkerke of a roommate as well as a teammate. “It’s kind of a cool experience.”

VanMoerkerke and Pasztor played against each other as members of Tillsonburg and Langton minor hockey, respectively; and again in Junior B while with the London Nationals and St. Thomas Stars.

VanMoerkerke’s hockey path from there passed through the OHL’s London Knights and Brampton Battalion, before finishing up with the Brantford Golden Eagles. His tenure in the OHL entitled VanMoerkerke to three years of educational financing, which he applied to a year with Wilfrid Laurier at its Brantford campus and the first two of three at OUIT in Oshawa, where he is coincidentally continuing his hockey education, supported by a $4,000 Athletic Financing Aid contribution, should he maintain a 70% average.

“It motivates you,” said VanMoerkerke, sporting a 78% average in his business program. “It’s a lot of money towards tuition.”

The quality of hockey in the OUA is high: the Golden Hawks roster, for example, features 11 players whose previous team was in the OHL.

VanMoerkerke’s transition to the OUA included a positional change from centre to left wing, “Up and down, up and down,” he laughed. His tenure with the Ridgebacks has been a ‘good fit,’ he continued, given the opportunity to move forward on the depth chart.

“At this level, you can’t ask for more than the opportunity to prove yourself, and I’ve been given that since day one.”

Playing hockey helped in the transition to university, he added. It is a significant commitment – the team practices every day except Sunday – but also means you have ’25 best friends in the room on your first day.

“We all have fun together,” said VanMoerkerke.

His role during his first season was largely as a ‘physical presence,’ who chipped in offensively where he could.

“Now, it’s kind of evolved to being one of the go-to guys,” says VanMoerkerke, who wears and ‘A’ and was double-shifted down the stretch against Laurier.

He was a little better than a point-per performer through 19 games, with six goals and 15 assists, including three in Waterloo, directly supporting a Stoughton hat trick.

“I think it’s pretty easy,” VanMoerkerke laughed. “I just give him the puck and he does all the work.”

Teammate and roommate Pasztor might have said the same on the Ridgebacks’ fourth goal, which began with the puck on his stick, before passing through VanMoerkerke en route to Stoughton and the back of the Golden Hawks’ net. Pasztor’s hockey career began in Langton, before passing through a season of Junior C in Norwich with the Merchants, two of Junior B with the St. Thomas Stars, one at the Tier II Junior A level with Aurora, and then on to Grand Prairie, Alberta, for his final year of junior eligibility.

His path from there passed through joint summer workouts with VanMoerkerke, who suggested he give the Ridgebacks a try.

“He just convinced me to come,” said Pasztor. “It just happened.”

Pasztor was offered a tryout, and impressed the coaching staff enough to gain a roster position. Essentially a ‘walk on’, Pasztor hadn’t been penciled into the UOIT pre-season lineup, and initially was a healthy scratch on occasion, but quickly earned a regular shift on the Ridgebacks’ blueline.

“Through exhibition, I worked my way into the lineup.”

His first year would include significant time on both the power-play and penalty-kill. Pasztor felt he grew as a player during his second season, easing back on his individual offensive tendencies, and fitting more into the Ridgebacks’ systems, an evolution he describes as the middle ground between an offensive and defensive defenceman.

“Kind of undecided,” Pasztor admitted. “You would probably say a two-day defenceman.

“I play a pretty good shutdown role and chip in offensively when I can.”

The 23-year-old got off to ‘a better start,’ in his third season, and currently has five goals and seven assists. He is having ‘lots of fun,’ balancing academics and life around the rink with a competitive fire that has always burned brightly.

“It’s a part of you I hope doesn’t die,” says Pasztor, who has always hated to lose, and still enjoys competing at the OUA’s high level.

“Playing with a friend is a big bonus,” added Pasztor, whose future plans include a career in accounting, “and maybe coaching some hockey.”

He avoids the ‘living the dream,’ analogy as bordering on cliché, but the three words do have a ring of truth.

“I think that’s the biggest part of where I’m at now,” Pastor summed up. “The love of hockey, doing it while I’m at school and keeping myself busy.”

VanMoerkerke will be eligible to graduate at the end of this year, but fully anticipates being back at UOIT, potentially to work on a masters degree – while continuing to play hockey.

“A lot of people call it chasing the dream,” he laughed.

That isn’t necessarily the case for VanMoerkerke at this point, but his time at UOIT has proven to be a pretty solid reality.

“I’m going to come back for a fourth year,” he concluded. “Like you said, figure out what I want to do.

“The eligibility is still there, might as well keep playing.”

 

 

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