Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXV, No. 6
Wednesday, February 9, 2011
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(Photo by Stephen Goldsmith)

Z-FACTOR: John Zdunkiewicz, center, poses with two of his students from his “Ztending” hockey goalie teaching business. This winter, Zdunkiewicz is making his debut as the goalie coach for the Princeton University women’s hockey team. His work has already paid dividends as Tiger goalie Rachel Weber recently set a program and ECAC Hockey record with a scoreless streak of more than 289 minutes of game action.

Covering Goaltending Basics From A-to-Z, Zdunkiewicz Makes Impact as PU Goalie Coach

Bill Alden

John Zdunkiewicz views hockey goaltending as an intricate puzzle.

“There are so many different pieces that you have to make sure fit into place,” said Zdunkiewicz, who is in his debut season as the goalie coach for the Princeton University women’s hockey team. “Once they all fit into place, it all comes together.”

While Zdunkiewicz has only been on the job for a few months for Princeton, he has already helped Tiger goalie Rachel Weber bring things together in record-breaking fashion as she recently set a program and ECAC Hockey record with a scoreless streak of more than 289 minutes of game action.

“Rachel rose to the occasion and she knew she had to,” said Zdunkiewicz of Weber who ascend to the starting role due to an injury to Cassie Seguin.

“She had years of good training; it was just good that I could take the next step and give her more training and further her. It is not so much the skills with the college goalies; it is the psychological and mental part of the game. It’s more or less tweaking the brain and how they think.”

Zdunkiewicz, 28, brings an experience with many parts of the game to the table, having starred as a goalie for Pennsbury High, played defenseman for the Rider University club team, officiated hockey since he was a teenager and getting into goalie instruction as a 14-year-old.

“Working as a ref, playing goalie, and playing out, you get to see every visual and mental aspect of the game,” said Zdunkiewicz.

It didn’t take long for Zdunkiewicz to realize that he had a gift for passing on his knowledge of the goalie position. He started coaching goalies at his local Pennsbury when he was 14 and saw that it also helped him as a player.

“I took to it and I noticed that my game was better and stronger because I was focusing on the fundamentals,” said Zdunkiewicz, who picked up the basics from annually attending the Jim Park goalie camp in Canada and working locally with Craig Fiander’s Textbook Goaltending program.

“Now I had to bring back all the stuff that my coaches Craig Fiander [former Princeton University goalie] were teaching me and I had to teach it.”

In Zdunkiewicz’s view, the position merits that level of study. “I think it is the fact that there are a lot of psychological aspects to the game,” said Zdunkiewicz.

“It takes a real strong mental individual to play the position which I thought was always one of my best aspects. The other part is that you are constantly in the spotlight; you can’t mess up.”

His fascination with the intricacies of the position led him him to devote more and more time to teaching aspiring goalies.

“In 2005, I started doing more teaching,” said Zdunkiewicz,. “I was figuring out what I wanted to do and this is something I have always been doing. I started doing some private lessons and it had a snowball effect. I always toyed around having a career with this.”

In the last year, Zdunkiewicz has formalized things, opening a goalie training business that he named “Ztending.” He has a website (https://ztending.com/Home.php) and a burgeoning following.

“I think we have about 100 goalies, give or take a few,” said Zdunkiewicz, who is studying video production at Bucks County College to hone his skills in that area.

“We have camps, clinics, and private lessons. I also do video game analysis where I take a video of a goalie from a game and break it down and do technical things like freeze frames and voiceovers. Soon, I am going to have synthetic ice so I can do lessons out of my home.”

Zdunkiewicz was fired up to get the chance to impart lessons to the Princeton women goaltenders when the job opened up after previous goalie coach Francois Bourbeau decided to focus on coaching the Hun boys’ hockey team and spend more time with his toddler daughter.

“Craig Fiander suggested my name; he called me and asked me if I would be interested,” recalled Zdunkiewicz. “It is a volunteer gig but I jumped right on it.”

Zdunkiewicz typically comes to a couple of practices a week with the Tigers. He has carved out Wednesday as “Goalie World,” which involves the goalies coming an hour early to work through a series of game-like drills. Zdunkiewicz also has the reserve goalies keep a game log, tracking shots, saves, and goals.

While there is a heavy focus on sharpening fundamentals, Zdunkiewicz is looking to build a trust level emotionally and mentally with his goalies.

“One thing I do well is I know how to build confidence in goalies,” asserted the easy-going Zdunkiewicz, who punctuates his nuggets of goalie wisdom with frequent laughter.

“I know how to have a close relationship with them; they trust me and they are coming to me. It is just having good conversations with then and being their friend.”

Although just months into the Princeton job, Zdunkiewicz can already tell that he would like to have a long relationship with the program.

“The girls are always having fun, the energy is up,” said Zdunkiewicz. “It’s about the experience for me. I have played here and been around Baker and the whole environment here for years; there is nothing like it.”

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