Nick Prkusic grew up as a hockey-loving lad in St. Albert, Alberta. Given the proximity of two high-profile NHL teams, the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames, it could be expected that he would grow up rooting for one of those two. Oddly enough, his favorite team growing up was the Minnesota Wild. That isn’t the only surprising aspect of his hockey upbringing.
Prkusic spent his early hockey years playing a majority of his games as a goalie. As such, his favorite players growing up were Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding. However, around the age of 12, he eventually grew tired of playing goalie, and made the switch to being a full-time forward.
“At that age you kind of sit every second game, so I didn’t really like that,” he explained. “I guess I was just kind of getting tired of being the one getting scored on. I wanted to do a little bit of scoring myself. I always wanted to be a goal-scorer, so I think that’s kind of why I switched.”
His hockey idol then shifted from Backstrom and Harding to the highly-skilled Marian Gaborik. This move in positions proved to be a smart decision, as his hockey career progressed significantly, leading eventually to where he is today, a freshman at Robert Morris.
His specific path to RMU can be traced back to the decision to move to Medicine Hat, Alberta at age 15 for midgets. He then got recruited to play in Brooks, Alberta, for the Brooks Bandits of the Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL).
That is where his career really began to take off. He scored 151 points over 175 games in three seasons with the Bandits. It was with the Bandits that RMU first saw him play during a showcase, which of course led him to where he is today.
The one-time goalie now brings a lot to the table as a big, strong, two-way forward.
“I think nowadays the way the game is, and I’m a bigger guy, so I’m a physical guy,” he described. “I’m definitely a two-way player, I’ll always play defense before offense. When I’m in the offensive zone I like to shoot the puck, I think that’s probably my strongest suit, my shot. I try to chip in anywhere I can on the ice.”
Prkusic has always desired to be successful on the ice. This could be seen in his decision to switch from goalie to forward. This love of winning and success can be traced back to a young age. One of his earliest, favorite hockey memories came at the age of eight, when he skated out for a game and scored a game-winning goal.
“When I played novice I remember going to a tournament in Banff, Alberta and scoring the OT winner on a 2-on-0 against the other St. Albert team that was in the tournament,” he recalled. “That was pretty cool against all of my buddies.”
This knack for winning hit a bit of a lapse during his time in midgets, but it also increased his drive to get back to winning habits. This is what he eventually found in Brooks, where his team was extremely successful. He was a part of two league championship teams, and made the RBC Cup, which determines the overall Canada Junior A champion each year, twice. He captained the team to it’s second straight championship during his final year of juniors.
This winning attitude played a big role in him wanting to play for the Colonials. With the team having won numerous Three Rivers Classic titles, league regular season championships and one playoff championship in recent years, he knows that he has a good chance to achieve more team success in college.
“I think once I got older I started to realize that winning was the most important thing to me,” he said. “In midget I played on a really lousy team two years in a row, I think we had a total of 12 wins combined. Then I went to Brooks and I barely lost more than that in my three years there. So I just kind of fell in love with winning and trying to contribute to winning and being a big factor.
“So I think that’s just kind of engrained to be the number one thing I want to accomplish in playing hockey and I think coming here (to RMU) gives me a good opportunity to try to win some more championships.”
Prkusic is now nearing the end of his first semester at Robert Morris. As an undeclared business major, he has definitely been keeping busy balancing his commitments between school work and hockey. As he has made this adjustment, he has learned what is necessary to be successful both on and off the ice.
Aside from getting used to the student lifestyle again, Prkusic has needed to adjust to a new city as well. His visit to campus before committing was the only time he had been in Pittsburgh before move in day in August. However, his quick visit was enough to sell him that it would be a place where he would enjoy living.
“That (my visit) was the first time I was able to experience it,” he explained. “I think that was actually something that drew me in was how nice the city was. The guys go there (downtown) sometimes to watch a Pirates game which is pretty cool on the river. It’s definitely a really nice, clean city from what I’ve seen. It’s pretty cool to be that close and be able to experience that, as well as being in this smaller area (in Moon).”
While he has been experiencing the new city with his teammates, he pretty much has a constant reminder of his home in Alberta. Fellow freshman Ryley Risling also grew up in Alberta. The two played a year of midgets together in Medicine Hat.
This meant that on day one they each had a familiar face not only in the locker room, but also in their dorm room, as the two are roommates. This proved to be helpful for things like travel, as they coordinated their trip to Pittsburgh together. Their relationship has eased the transition to college life for Prkusic.
“We kind of experienced everything together,” he said. “From meals, to living together, helping each other with school work when we need it and just stuff like that. We are pretty much always together so it’s been good to have someone else to experience everything with.”
Prkusic, Risling and the Colonials are 5-9-1 through the first 15 games of the season. The team has experienced some highs and lows to this point, but are gearing up for a strong push before the holidays. They are currently enjoying a bye-week, but will soon prepare for a big series against in-state rival Penn State.
That series will be a little different than most, as it is a home-and-home series, with both games taking place in high-profile venues, PPG Paints Arena, home of the Penguins, and the Nittany Lions’ Pegula Ice Arena. As a freshman, who hasn’t experienced many games in venues like this yet, Prkusic is excited for the upcoming series.
“I think it’s going to be pretty fun,” he exclaimed. “I think that’s always something that might motivate you a bit extra. I know that we always play a couple games here (at PPG Paints Arena), but I’m a freshman so I haven’t been able to play in that rink yet.
“I think that’s pretty exciting to see what NHL players experience. Obviously it won’t be sold out or anything like that but it will still be a cool experience. I’ve heard Penn State is the same, that they have a packed house and that’ll be a fun experience too, going there and trying to take two points from them at their home rink.”