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Marquette native, Northern Michigan captain Florek eyes future as professional hockey player, educator

March 11, 2012
By MATT WELLENS - Journal Sports Editor (mwellens@miningjournal.net) , The Mining Journal

He balanced the demands of high school and the sport he loves while in Ann Arbor playing for the U.S. National Team Development Program and most recently as a student-athlete at Northern Michigan University.

So why not do it a few months longer when he turns pro?

"My dream is to be a professional hockey player, but I also have a dream of being a professional educator too," Florek said. "I want to be a teacher. That's my goal, as well as hockey."

Article Photos

Northern Michigan University senior captain Justin Florek of Marquette acknowledges the Berry Events Center crowd during Senior Night festivities prior to the Wildcats’ regular season finale against Lake Superior State on Feb. 25. Not only does Florek plan to pursue a career in professional hockey, but once his playing days are done he’d like to return home to be a teacher. (Journal photo by Adelle Whitefoot)

Florek will have some time to ponder how he will juggle school and the start of his professional hockey career as the Wildcats await their NCAA tournament fate.

Florek could have signed as early as this week with the Boston Bruins' organization, which drafted him in the fifth round, No. 135 overall, of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. However, the senior NMU captain is holding out hope like the rest of his teammates that NMU can overcome the odds and earn its second at-large bid to the NCAA tournament in three years with the last coming during Florek's sophomore year.

Despite losing in the first-round of the CCHA playoffs at home to last-place Bowling Green State, NMU held about a 25-percent chance heading into the weekend of being in the field of 16, which will be announced on March 18.

"We pulled together a pretty good season here," Florek said. "Besides my sophomore year, this is the best season we've had. It was really sad how we ended it right now, but it was a great season, a great group of guys. I think they will learn from their experiences next year and within the next couple years, they will be able to get back to the tournament."

If Florek's college career is indeed over, he'll finish his senior year with a team-high 19 goals - nine of which came on the power play - plus 17 assists for 36 points, ranking him second in scoring behind fellow senior forward Tyler Gron by one point.

Florek was fifth in CCHA play in scoring with 11 goals and 16 assists and fourth among CCHA players in overall scoring. He finished as the fourth-leading vote getter among forwards with four first place votes and 34 total points to land on the All-CCHA second team this season.

He is also a finalist for the CCHA Best Defensive Forward Award, which will be handed out at the Fox Theatre in Detroit on Thursday.

"I look back and all I see is that loss to Bowling Green," Florek said. "If you look at the big picture, if you look past that, I think everyone will see a good season. We lost four games at home all season, which is really a great accomplishment. It doesn't just show about our team, but about the fans we have here and all the support we have. It's the best attendance I have seen since I've been around."

In 157 career games as a Wildcat, Florek has 53 goals and 63 assists for 116 points. He holds a career record of 70-63-24 with a home mark of 41-27-20.

As his CCHA award nomination proves, Florek has been more than just a goal scorer in his four years. He was the most versatile player on the ice working on the power play, penalty kill, four-on-four and late in the game when NMU had pulled its goaltender for an extra attacker - or the other way around if NMU was leading.

According to head coach Walt Kyle, Florek is the best hockey player to ever come out of Marquette, not only for what he did on the ice, but off it as a student and volunteer in the community with organizations such as Big Brothers Big Sisters.

"Florek was phenomenal, clearly our best player this season," Kyle said. "Nobody was close. Watch us. Go any day to practice. He's a man. He played like a man.

"He'll always be a special player to me. He's a special person and a special kid.

"Florek is a guy I consider a friend right now. That friendship developed through four years of being in the same culture and fighting for all the same things. He's a guy - I've said it before - that Marquette should be extremely proud of no matter what goes on from this point in his hockey career."

For Florek, it's the character aspect he hopes is remembered most by his hometown when he goes off to play for the Bruins or their AHL affiliate in Providence, also called the Bruins.

Florek said he put a lot of pressure on himself this season to be a true student-athlete, especially as a senior captain. He said it helped him grow into a better person.

"I just hope I made a positive impact in the character aspect of things - trying to be a good citizen, a great student-athlete, good grades, hard working, disciplined, just trying to do everything to the best of my ability and what's right," Florek said. "It's been great growing up here in Marquette."

Florek said after his professional hockey playing days are over, he wants to return home to Marquette to be a teacher, own a camp and a house. That's why finishing college is so important to him.

When Florek does sign this spring, he'll most likely land be sent to the AHL before getting his shot over the summer to earn a spot on the Bruins' NHL club.

Florek would prefer not to head out East full time, however, because he doesn't want to throw away an entire semester of college by bailing midway through, he said.

"I want to go out and play a couple games," Florek said. "That would be ideal for me, just to go out for a weekend or two weekends and play. I want to finish out the semester. I still have a year left after this year to take my methods classes and student teach. There's a big difference between coming back for a year and coming back for a year and a half.

"I'm definitely going to finish out this semester, going to get good grades, I'm not going to slack off. I'm going to finish it out. I'm going to get a degree from Northern Michigan."

Whether last weekend was his last as a Wildcat or if the team does sneak into the NCAA tournament, Florek said this was the not just his best season, but the best year of his life.

Florek said he's now battling the wave of emotions concerning his future, specifically stress and excitement. He said he understands how difficult it will be to finish school and turn professional at the same time.

Looking back, however, it's tough for Florek to complain.

After all, he is living his dream.

"I've shed some tears over this and I probably will continue to do that," Florek said. "It's been a dream come true to play here. I look back at books when I was in kindergarten. I'm 6 years old and I'm writing, 'I want to be a professional hockey player,' 'I want to play for Northern.'

"It's been a lifelong goal of mine and I kind of lived my dream the whole way. It's just amazing to look back. I just need to sit back in my ice shanty or hunting shack and think to myself, 'Is this really my life?'"

 
 

 

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