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TK and the Need for Speed
Sara Courtney

It was the last Sunday in January, and Tyler Kusznier (“TK” to his hockey teammates) was up at 5:30 a.m. eating breakfast. His travel team had a game at 7:30 a.m.—the last game of the weekend, and, having swept the first two games in the showcase, he was feeling optimistic. The air outside was chilly—this was Omaha, Nebraska in January, after all—and the temperature was hovering at negative 15 degrees. It was time to warm up.

His routine is always the same. He arrives at the rink 90 minutes before the game. Once inside the locker room, he unpacks his equipment and begins to remove the tape from the bottom of his hockey stick before retaping it again, taking special care to tape over puck marks or rips from opponents’ skates. Hockey sticks do not last long—if he’s lucky, a few months, but sometimes it’s only a week before it would snap in half—and at $300 per stick, he often hoped that if it was gonna go, it would be just before the 30-day warranty so he could get a free new one.

His pre-game routine was part warmup and part superstition. The right skate always comes out of the bag and onto his foot first. He’s not sure when this superstition started, but he’s not going to risk fate’s wrath by starting with his left skate now. His last shot on the ice has to be good—if he misses or whiffs, and they start cleaning up the pucks, he’ll tell them to move out of the way so his last shot is a good shot. Then, when warmup is all done, he adds the final piece to his pre-game routine: his speed.

“Once everyone is cleaning up the pucks, I’ll do one really hard lap,” he explains in his down-to-earth manner. And what defines a hard lap? “Really fast,” he says.

Later, he will compare the blistering speed he reaches at the end of warm up with the speed he achieves during the game. But for now, during those last few moments of warmup, he has a singular purpose. “I need to feel my top speed,” he says. “And as I’m in that, I’m telling myself: this is how I have to skate on the ice during my shifts.”

He is testing his intensity here—both physically and mentally—and pushing the boundaries of how fast he can go. Sometimes he discovers his legs are tired, and he doesn’t have it in him that day. But that’s an outlier. Because other times? “It’s like… I won’t even feel a thing. I feel faster than normal.” And in those moments, there’s only one thought on his mind. “This is how I need to be.”

Ask around about Tyler Kusznier and you’re bound to hear he’s a nice kid, sure, who makes Honor Roll, too. But ask anyone about TK the hockey player, and they all say the same thing.

“Really fast,” says Tyler Jones ’25, who has known TK since preschool and played ice hockey with him since. Pressed to expand on it, he elaborates this way:

“He’s very fast.” Okay. Got it. And? “Really. Very, very fast.”

As a spectator, it’s easy to wonder if all the hockey players are fast, but his teammate dismisses this. “He is one of the fastest players I’ve ever seen.”

“I guess what stands out—what has always stood out for TK as a player—is his speed. He is just faster than everyone else,” says Assistant Director of College Counseling and Boys’ Varsity Ice Hockey Coach Scott Garrow. “But there’s way more to it in his game,” he adds. “He’s got good skill. He shoots the puck well. He works tremendously hard. He is focused and competitive. He really has got all of the attributes needed to be an exceptional player.”

Knowing the soccer coaches at Pingry have their players wear data-tracking devices to measure their speed, among other things, I inquire if the hockey players wear something similar. Do they track this data? Just how fast is he going, anyway?

“We do not,” says Coach Garrow, bemused by the question. “I just know he’s fast.”

 

***

Most weekends, TK is in the car with his dad, up early and out late, driving somewhere in the Northeast to a tournament or showcase. One weekend it’s Rhode Island, the following it’s Minnesota; the next Pittsburgh, then on to Wellesley, Massachusetts; Utica, New York, back to Massachusetts, then Buffalo, then Pittsburgh again. There was some downtime for the holidays, but he still traveled to Rochester, then Long Island, then back to Rochester, flew down for that chilly weekend in Omaha, Nebraska, and then off to Connecticut this past weekend. In March, he has a few in New Jersey, and then a trip out west to Nevada. Weekends that don’t have showcases or tournaments have home games, in addition to the practices on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday nights with his club, and the Monday through Saturday schedule Pingry’s ice hockey schedule requires with its own demanding schedule of practices and games. He is worried about his Fridays and missing another physics class. He’s getting a good grade in the course, but with a schedule that requires him to start a long drive on Thursday after school, he can’t afford to get a cold or any other staple of life: take a sick day. So he studies while in the car, or during his downtime at the various hotels he stays in.

He has a tight-knit group of friends, but they know that most of his weekends are spoken for. He’s missed out on concerts and birthday parties, but was excited to attend Snowball. He is grateful for the time spent with his dad, though. “If I didn’t have those long car rides, I wouldn’t be as close with my dad as I am,” he says. “And it just helps me to realize that my dad does everything for me. My parents do everything for me.” All the travel comes at a cost, but he is thankful for it, too. “Where would I be if I wasn’t on those car rides? Would I give my dad much of my time? Would we be as close as we are?”

When he was only three, his dad used to take him to open skate on Fridays, where he was charmed by the zamboni and the older players coming out on the ice afterward. It became their Friday activity, and it was clear early on that he was unusually fast. During the winter, his dad would lay down a tarp in the backyard and create a makeshift hockey rink, flooding it with water so TK could whip around on it when it would freeze.

To hear TK tell it, he was just always very fast. “When I was younger, people would tell me, ‘You’re skating is a gift’”, he recalls. “Even now, my dad will say, ‘Use your speed. Use your speed.’” He played competitively from a very young age, and knew he wanted to go as far as he could, not just for himself, but for those around him. “Part of it is proving it to myself,” he admits. “But part of it… I want to do it for my parents, who put so much effort into it for me… Driving six hours every week, spending all this money on food and hotels… and if it doesn’t go anywhere?” He ends the thought there, unwilling to consider it further. As his longtime friend Tyler observes, when you play competitively, “Your whole life is hockey.” So, TK keeps pushing it, like that one last hard lap.

“It’s what I enjoy doing,” he says quietly, in a clear understatement. “So, I’ll bring it as far as I can.”

***

TK came to Pingry as a freshman in large part because of Coach Garrow, who first began coaching him on his travel team when he was in Grade 6. “Coach Garrow was a big reason I came to Pingry,” he says. “He introduced me to it, and he got me in contact with all the people I needed.” He’s come a long way since then, back when he was simply a pretty good player, to becoming the elite player he is today, and he’s faced ups and downs along the way, including being cut from his hockey team when he was 10 years old. Overhearing his dad in a tense conversation over the phone with his coach at the time, he went to his room and wondered what the future held. He still wonders that, but in the meantime, he does what he did back when he was 10: he quietly gets to work.

“He is quiet off the ice,” observes Coach Garrow. “Not real talkative on the ice or on the bench, either. But he is able to flip the switch and just become really aggressive, really competitive, whenever he is playing. He has that kind of dual personality that some athletes have, where he’s kind of calm and mild mannered off the ice, and yet he is able to flip the switch when it’s time.”

When TK has his speed, he is nearly impossible to stop. “For him to get the puck and take it and skate with it down the outside of the ice is something to watch. He puts a lot of pressure on the players on the other team to stop him.” At this, Coach Garrow pauses. “I guess that’s what I picture, when I picture TK—it’s him at full speed, going down the ice with the puck.”

What does it feel like, to go at speeds that make others simply stop and watch, or call it a gift, or give up their weekends to watch you fly on the ice? TK grapples for the right words. “You feel the wind on you… it almost feels like you’re flying, but your feet are on the ground. Still, it’s so much faster than just running. And it doesn’t take as much effort as running because you’re gliding.” He makes it clear it’s immensely fun. “That’s the other thing I really love about hockey. It’s just so much more enjoyable to be skating.” Is he flying? Is he pushing it further than he thought possible? “At my top speed, I just feel like… I don’t know how to explain it,” he says. “It’s… really hard to explain. It just feels awesome.”

For the blurry spectators on the sidelines, it is perhaps best summed up by Coach Garrow. “You know,” he says with a smile, “it is just something to watch him play.”

 

***

 

 

The first image is by Maggie Yuracheck.

The remaining images are courtesy of Bruce Morrison '64.

To contact the author: Sara Courtney, Communications Writer