Zach Waltuck, in his second season skating for the Saint Viator Varsity 2 team, is a defensive-driven defenseman. He’s a junior focused on keeping foes off the scoreboard and his physical game helps stop opposing forwards.
“As one of the older players (on the team), I try to help the younger players when they get frustrated with themselves or their teammates. Additionally, sometimes to a fault, I always stand up for my teammates on ice in dirty situations,” said Waltuck, 17, who lives in Palatine and is the team captain. He was an alternate captain last year.
The left-handed shooting Waltuck, sporting uniform No. 18, has teamed with every Lions’ defensemen this season as the team has been switching up pairs throughout the season, which has led Viator to a 5-8-1 record, with a 2-game Academic Hockey League (AHL) losing streak heading into the team’s next game: Saturday, December 16, against Glenbrook South in Mount Prospect.
“I try to lead by example and practice what I preach,” he said. “How can I tell people to dump the puck in or to play the body if I play selfishly and do neither. I also watch my teammates and try to figure out how I can push us to play better as a whole. I do not lead by screaming when someone makes a mistake, rather, I try to bring people up and build their confidence so they can play their best.
“I always want to be the hardest working player on the ice and leave it all out there each shift and practice.”
Waltuck’s leadership is exemplified by being hearing impaired. He wears hearing aids all day that brings his hearing to a near normal level, he said. Without the hearing aids he wouldn’t be able to hear most conversations.
“I have to tell my teammates that if they are trying to talk to me on the ice that they really have to talk loudly or else I might miss it,” Waltuck said. “Additionally, when coach is talking, I make sure I am at the front of the huddle so I can hear well. Sometimes it can be a bit tricky to discuss faceoff strategies on the ice as a teammate’s whisper is hard to pick up in a loud rink.”
Despite the challenges, Waltuck said he never feared hockey was off the table. He has been hearing impaired since birth.
“Most of the time, there are no issues, but when there are, they can usually be solved with communication,” he said. “If I miss part of a drill coach is explaining, I will have to ask him to repeat part of it. My teammates are good at repeating things if I miss them. I know it can get frustrating if I keep missing something they are saying, but they are patient.”
Waltuck also in October broke his wrist and has missed action. “Watching games standing on the bench is awful, but it gives me a top-down view of the game,” he said. “I hope to come out of this setback as a smarter player. After missing so many games I cannot afford to waste a second on the ice and am going to try to work harder than ever.”
Waltuck’s career highlight was beating Deerfield in the playoffs last season. Also last year, he walked the puck in from the point and scored a backhand against Glenbrook South, arguably the most memorable goal of his career. “Scoring is not usually my contribution, so it is always exciting when I do,” he said. “This goal came from my poise, reading the attacking winger, which was something I was struggling with and trying to improve last season.”
Waltuck is still undecided on his college plans, but he wants to play hockey at the next level. “I try to play better each game with fewer mistakes and by the end of the season I want to be prepared to play a faster game and more physical game in the SHL,” he said. “I have had a lot of fun getting to know some of my teammates better (this season) and playing different compilations at an early season tournament in Detroit.”
“The novelty has not worn off,” Waltuck said of being the team captain. “Every time I put on my jersey and see the ‘C’ I remember I have to hold myself to a higher standard. It pushes me to work harder and be a better teammate and leader.”