If you’re wondering how a kid from Atlanta becomes a Division I college hockey player, just ask Zack Kamrass.
“It takes a lot of personal drive,” he said. “…I went to a lot of other states (as a child) and saw how big the sport can be.”
The junior at UMass Lowell grew up in a household full of family, pets and football – and luckily with a few friends who really, really liked hockey.
“My older brother learned to play from a close family friend from Michigan, and it just kind of trickled down,” he said. “I played my youth hockey in Atlanta, starting with travel teams and then worked my way to playing juniors for five years in different cities and states.”
His first great hockey memory as kid came when the Atlanta Knights of the now defunct International Hockey League won the Turner Cup.
“The team had a celebration and I got to sit in on it, I was really little,” he said. “But it was something I fell in love with.”
Kamrass has become one of the top defenseman for the team, which finished first in Hockey East last year and won the championship tournament. The River Hawks made their first appearance in the Frozen Four last April, losing to eventual 2013 NCAA Champions Yale in overtime.
“I don’t think I ever played forward to be honest, as long as I can remember, I was on the blue line,” said Kemrass. “My brother is a forward, so I just always played D.”
Lately Kamrass’ offensive production has been shining through – he notched assists on each of the River Hawks’ three goals last Saturday against the University of New Hampshire for which he was named Hockey East Co-Defensive Player of the Week.
“Any way I can help out the team is a bonus for me, I don’t necessarily care if I have 50 points or two points, as long as we do well,” said Kamrass. “I’ve never been a statistics guy. My goal is to get a better plus/minus and log minutes for key parts of the game, righter than getting 30 goals a year and have a horrible plus/minus. It’s always nice to contribute, but I look more at my plus/minus.”
Kamrass has matured steadily over the past two years, and has emerged as a team leader on and off the ice. With the departure of All American defenseman Chad Ruhwedel in the off season, Kamrass has taken advantage of the opportunity and taken the next step for the River Hawks.
“I’ve always had a leadership trait about me, it’s one of the things I like to consider myself. I don’t necessarily think I’m the type to grab someone and talk to them about it if they do something wrong but I like to lead by example on and off the ice,” he said. “I think it’s been nice to have guys like Riley Wetmore (now with the New York Islanders organization) and Ruhwedel who were leaders. They set a good path to follow in their footsteps.”
Development as a hockey player has also changed significantly since playing college hockey, Kamrass said. As a defenseman who takes pride in his poise on the ice, making clean first-passes and his hockey smarts – Kamrass’ game has come a long way since he played juniors for the Sioux Fall Stampede.
“I am a lot more confident with the puck offensively now, my two-way game has definitely improved. My skating has definitely improved, we do quite a bit of work on that,” said Kemrass. “And so has my puck handling. It’s the little aspects of my game I’ve been noticing have improved.”
As a junior hockey player in Sioux Falls, he met Ruhwedel and current River Hawks Captain Josh Holmstrom, who made a big impact on Kamrass’ decision to play college hockey in Lowell.
Former UMass Lowell Assistant Coach Darryl Green originally recruited Kamrass to play under then-Head Coach Blaise McDonald. When UMass Lowell did not renew McDonald’s contract in 2011 and hired former Lowell standout Norm Bazin away from Hamilton College, Kamrass was grateful the new staff decided to keep him on the team.
“(Josh and Chad) were already out here and it was a tough first year for them (under MacDonald),” said Kamrass, as the team only won five games in 2010-2011. “I was fortunate I still got to come to the school and I think the whole school is in an upward swing. It doesn’t get much better.”
And when Kamrass notched his first goal of his college career in March of 2012 – an overtime goal against Providence College in the Hockey East quarter-finals – suddenly, the hockey player from Atlanta had made his mark on the college hockey landscape.
Still, Kamrass doesn’t cite that moment as his favorite moment as a River Hawk. Instead, he points to the team’s 2013 league and Hockey East tournament wins.
“We really came together and it was a special feeling when you work so hard as a group and accomplish that team goal,” he said. “I haven’t been on a championship team since youth hockey, and even that doesn’t add up to what a year of hard work is like and then winning at the TD Garden.”
Kamrass hopes to take his hockey career as far as he can. Only a junior, he isn’t worried about his post college career just yet, and continues to take the season game by game.
“My biggest goal right now is to just be as consistent as possible,” he said.
Getting to Know Zack Kamrass
What’s your guilty pleasure song?: “Wrecking Ball” by Miley Cyrus
What was your first concert?: “I’ve actually never been to a concert. People around here think that is so weird. But I plan on attending a concert in Sweden with (teammate) Christian Folin.”
What movie makes you cry?: “Marley & Me gets me every time. I have two golden retrievers at home. If you don’t cry at that movie, you don’t have a heart.”
Do you have any pre-game rituals?: “On Thursday nights, I always go to Olive Garden with Josh and Christian. Holmer and I have done it since I’ve been here and then we asked (Folin) to join us. It is just a ritual we always look forward to every week. And on game day, I get dressed left to right with my gear.”
What’s the first thing you do when you go home to Georgia?: “Just greet my dogs. We have two goldens, Amber and Ashley, a Wheaton Terrier mixed named Brody, and a Rhodesian Ridgeback/hound mix named Sweetie.”
What is one object you would be so upset if you lost?: “Is it too cliché to say my iPad?”