Michigan native Balavich paving successful path in Cleveland
By Matt Mackinder
Word of mouth is sometimes the best way to get the good word on something.
In Nick Balavich’s case, he was offered a tender last season to play for the Cleveland Jr. Lumberjacks, but first contacted a family friend.
“Coach Bob Jacobson contacted me through a phone call, we spoke and he offered the tender to me,” explained Balavich. “I'm good friends with the Chapie family, including Adam Chapie (current University of Massacusetts-Lowell player who played for the Lumberjacks in the 2009-10 season). The Chapie’s had good things to say about coach Jacobson and the team, so I accepted the opportunity to play.
“I also saw the success the team had through the years, spoke to the coaching staff and it looked like a good match for me. I realized that this could be a good place to start, continue improvement on my hockey skills and allow me to meet my goals to move to the next level of hockey.”
That said, Balavich admitted to having to do some digging on the Jr. Jacks and the NA3HL to get a grasp on what type of hockey he’d be playing this season.
“I knew that it was a good place to work on your hockey skills and become a better hockey player and like I said, the Chapie family really helped me understand what Cleveland and the NA3 was about,” said Balavich. “I knew that through hard work, dedication and staying focused, this league will give me have the opportunity to move onto the next level, whether it be college hockey or moving up in the junior ranks.”
At the start of the season, Balavich had a spot on the team, but wasn’t quite sure what his permanent role would be.
Enter Cleveland assistant coach Jack Behan.
“I feel that I am a hard-hitting power forward; I love the physical part of the game and imposing my will on my opponents,” Balavich said. “Everyone likes to score and have a nose for the net, but then I realized that my skill set didn’t always suit that way of play. Coach Behan believed in me and told me to throw my weight around and just take the puck to the net. For the past month, I have been playing more physical and throwing my weight around and it has led to more chances for my teammates as well as myself for scoring opportunities. It is more about me helping the team win than my personal stats. If coach wants me to go out and bang bodies and get in the opponent’s head, then that’s what I plan on doing.”
At Lake Orion High School in Lake Orion, Mich., Balavich captained the Dragons his junior and senior seasons, while enjoying the game at a high level.
“I loved playing high school hockey in front of my family and my friends and I had great coaches in high school who came from playing juniors and college hockey,” Balavich said. “They knew about the skills and the mindset I would need to be successful. I give a lot of credit to those coaches (Nick Field, Marc Norrington, Aaron Hundt, Pat Cherry) on preparing me to play this year. Being captain gave me qualities to motivate my playing skills, keep a positive attitude and know what it takes to win.”
Balavich also stated that living away from home for the first time has been “an experience” and that may change yet again next season as the Brookings Blizzard of the NAHL have offered Balavich a tender for the 2013-14 season.
“Being away from home really challenges your personal responsibility and focus,” said Balavich. “You always are going to miss your family and friends from home. I like to stay in touch with my buddies in college. Calling my parents once in a while helps me stay focused on what I am doing here in Cleveland and my Lumberjack teammates have been great to fill the void.
“I really love the guys on the team. We have a great group of guys. There isn’t one person on the team I don’t enjoy hanging out with. We have fun on and off the ice and there is a real sense of camaraderie.”
After sweeping the Metro Jets last weekend, Balavich wants the wins to keep coming as the second half nears. He also wants to start exploring the college hockey route.
“I want to finish the season strong and honestly, my short-term goals are the team goals,” Balavich said. “We want to finish the season in first place in the East Division and continue to learn to play playoff hockey so we can be successful in the playoffs.”