A Veteran On The Ice - And Off
A VETERAN ON THE ICE – AND OFF
A journey from the ice rink to Afganistan and back again
The crash of pucks on boards is omnipresent at local ice rinks around the country. No matter where you look, you’ll see the same youthful exuberance from the teams, as players young as six shred the ice on their way to the puck. You’ll notice the same proud and loud parents cheering and shivering in the stands as they sip their drip coffee from the popup concession stand in lobby. Nobody knows what life holds for these fledgling hockey players, maybe they’ll end up in the National Hockey League or maybe, like Zac Mindermann, they’ll end up answering a higher calling.
Zachery Mindermann, 25, grew up in Spokane, Washington where he played for several different youth hockey organizations including Spokane Americans Youth Hockey Association, who at the same time were turning out future NHL stars like Tyler Johnson. Mindermann bounced to other organizations in the area but eventually returned to SAYHA to play on the 16u and 18u teams. After graduating high school in 2012, Mindermann’s immediate future didn’t involve hockey.
“My dad spent eight years in the Navy and [he] was always one of my biggest idols” Mindermann said “I figured his life turned out great and he had a good time while enlisted, so I figured I’d give it a go as well, just in a different branch of service. I enlisted in the United States Marine Corps.”
He spent four years on active duty all around the globe, beginning with boot camp in San Diego before heading to North Carolina for further training before calling Twenty-nine Palms, California, home.
“I finally got my shot at deployment in 2014. I spent six months in Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.” recounted Mindermann. “Upon returning to the states, I had determined that I would ride out the rest of my [enlistment] contract and then head to college.”
After initially considering Arizona State University as an option, Mindermann says that he changed his mind after his friend, with whom he expected to attend school, reenlisted. He then turned his focus to schools closer to home, on the east side of the Cascade mountain range in Washington state, hoping to return to the ice when he returned to classes.
“The two schools I applied for were Washington State University and Eastern Washington University and after receiving acceptance letters from both, I had a decision to make.” Mindermann said, “With the intention of returning to the lifelong sport I love, I began researching the two schools’ hockey programs, which is when I first got in touch with Travis Allen, who at the time was the head of hockey operations. It didn’t take long for me to understand EWU’s program was where I wanted to play.”
Zac Mindermann joined the EWU team prior to the 2016 campaign and has been a driving force in the locker room since his arrival. Head Coach Pat Hanlon noted that he has a natural ability to lead. He was named an assistant captain at the beginning of his freshman season and was given the captain’s ‘C’ later that year.
The moment wasn’t one Mindermann expected, saying, “I was a little surprised to be elected an assistant captain my freshman year but I have worn a letter on my chest before and being a leader is just like riding a bike, you never really forget how to do it.”
The Eastern Washington hockey club was in a state of surprise growth when he joined the team. They even ended up with a coaching change mid-season his freshman year. The following offseason, Pat Hanlon would move from an assistant role with another team to the head coach for Mindermann’s club. Throughout the changes, he credits his military service with his ability to keep a level head and be a role model for the rest of team.
That leadership drive was never more apparent than during the 2017-2018 campaign when Mindermann suffered a hand injury off the ice. He was expected to miss an extended period while in a cast but he put his perseverant mind to work, and with help from Allen, they crafted a new glove that would fit over his cast and allow him to get back on the ice. His teammates say it’s that level of dedication that allow them to look to him for advice and guidance.
“The guys believe in him. They know when he says to do something, he has a reason for telling them to do it, he’s not just talking to hear himself“ Said Hanlon “The guys in the locker room respect Mindy because they know the sacrifice he made to be with them at this level at this time in his life.”
Since joining the club, Mindermann has used his leadership skills and his work ethic to help lead the team from playing in a small four-team regional conference to now playing in the PAC8, a twelve-team west coast power conference in the ACHA, with a chance to make it to the regional or even national tournaments.
When asked what the future holds, Mindermann pondered for a moment before responding “Currently, I work at Avista Utilities here in Spokane and after I complete my education I plan to stay with them. I’m uncertain as to what career I may go into within the company but I know my time in the battlefield and on the ice will play a role in my decision.”
By Tyler Pisani
Director of Media & Communication