Robert Tadazak is the last line of defense for Army’s hockey program. When all else fails, he’s all that’s left. It’s lonely and often thankless work, but it’s his dream job – one he’s willing to chase from post to post.
Coming into his own
Tadazak, a 2008 graduate of Lapeer East High School, joined Army’s hockey team last season and put up some pretty impressive numbers. He had 53 saves in a game versus Brown University; for a goalie 50-plus saves in one game is the baseball-equivalent of a no-hitter. As a freshman, he split time with the team’s other goalie, then a junior, and hopes this season he’ll finally mind the net in the bulk of the team’s games.
“I’ve seen a lot of time over my first year and a half, and I’ve played in some very important games,” said Tadazak, who shares his role with Ryan Leets, now a senior. “After Leets graduates, I plan on taking over the starting role full-time, if it doesn’t happen before he graduates. My goal is to still go pro, and the option is still there.”
The arrival at the United State Military Academy at West Point (New York) marked a beginning and an end for Tadazak, who ended a long and successful junior hockey career when he committed to West Point. The opportunity to pursue an education, be challenged in every facet of life and follow his dream at the same time was too good to pass up.
To this point West Point has been everything it’s cracked up to be – maybe even more.
“So far it has been nothing short of a challenge,” he said. “Juggling grades with hockey and the military is the hardest part for me.”
Tadazak just recently declared his major in Management with a Systems Engineering track that every cadet has to take. After his career as a student-athlete is over, he plans on moving into Aviation or Air Defense Artillery.
Until then, he’ll continue stopping in order to get where he wants to go.
‘I decided to say’
Tadazak has fond memories of his days as a student in Lapeer Community Schools. He went to elementary school at Maple Grove and Lynch, middle school at Zemmer and then onto Lapeer East. He remembers considering leaving high school after his sophomore year to pursue his hockey dream full-time.
“I could’ve left, but I decided to stay and graduate from Lapeer East with all of my friends and family,” he said.
Even though he decided to stay close to home, he was never far from the ice. As a junior, he started playing junior hockey with the Flint Jr. Generals. After graduation, his budding career took him to Dubuque, Iowa, before being drafted by a team in Alexandria, Minnesota and finally back to the Michigan Warriors where he ended his junior career.
Tadazak still thinks back to his younger years when he was learning lessons that would serve him off the ice as much as on it. He recalls a few different people who mentored him during those days, including Dave Durkin, a physical education instructor at Lapeer East who retired in 2008.
“He had a very big impact on me,” he said. “He is well-known around the hockey world in the Flint area and if I ever had an issue in school, hockey, or life in general, he would always be there for me. We still get together whenever I come home and catch up.”
Durkin remembers when Tadazak chose East over West at the start of his high school career.
“There was such a buzz around East … everyone was really excited,” Durkin said. “By that time he already had a great resume — experience, athleticism, and excellent hand-eye coordination.”
Unfortunately, hockey fans were equally disappointed after Tadazak, as many promising players do, chose to play travel hockey rather than for East. Durkin, however, remember a young man who didn’t share any of the character flaws that great players sometimes exhibit.
“Sometimes kids who are great alienate themselves; Robert was never that way,” he said. “He loved his classmates. He never put on airs. That was the way he was raised.
“When I had him in class, it was such a pleasure. Amazing to see so many advanced qualities in a 14 or 15 year old.”
Durkin said his classmates and even many staff members went to his games to show their support.
“It was really neat to see that kind of tribute,” he said. “It’s just so satisfying as a teacher and coach that I had even a sliver of credit for how that young man developed.”
As for his potential to chase down his dream of playing professional hockey, Durkin said he has no doubts.
“He’s paid his dues; He’s done things the right way,” he said. “He has never shied away from the best competition.”
Another positive influence in his life was Mike Schlusler, a former teacher at Zemmer Middle School.
“He has always been a great friend to my family and possibly one of the closest teachers I’ve ever had.”
Like Durkin, he says they still keep in touch.
He also stays in contact with two other LCS graduates who ended up at West Point. Andrew Wing, a 2008 Lapeer West graduate, went to middle school at Zemmer and Army basic training with Tadazak. Alex Hart, a 2010 Lapeer East graduate, worked with Tadazak at Play-it-Again Sports in Flint during his junior hockey days.
Like many former graduates of Lapeer Community Schools, Tadazak has heard the scuttlebutt surrounding the planned future consolidation of Lapeer East and West as part of the District’s 4-year Strategic Plan.
“I think it’s a great idea,” he said. “This will give sports teams the ability to compete with the most competitive schools in the state.”
Tadazak thinks the merger would finally put an end to the longstanding enmity between sports teams from both schools.
“If the two schools join, there won’t be any more of this (hatred).”
In fact, the District’s hockey team is one step ahead of the Strategic Plan. East and West student-athletes have shared a hockey team since last season when the programs merged.
Lapeer Community Schools Superintendent Matt Wandrie, the author of the District’s Strategic Plan, believes that celebrating the successes of students from East and West is just one way of bringing the District closer together.
“Robert’s story is one that we can all be proud of,” Wandrie said. “His is a story of perseverance and dedication; he’s a great example of what can happen when students embrace challenges and make the necessary preparations to overcome them.”
For Cadets at West Point, graduation leads directly into a five-year service agreement in the Army. In the recent past, top-tier athletes who had the opportunity to play their sport professionally could opt out of their commitment. When the Army employed its Alternative Service Program (AS0) for would-be professional athletes, the other service academies cried foul, claiming that Army had an unfair advantage in recruiting because their best athletes could skirt the service requirement and turn professional immediately after graduation.
These days, being a Cadet and a professional athlete isn’t so easy. Army changed its policy in 2008, just more than a month after Tadazak graduated from East, so that student-athletes with professional promise must complete five years of service before playing professional sports, with few exceptions.
“If we want to go pro, we have to do it before we sign our letter of intent to stay in the Army before the first day of our junior year,” Tadazak said.
Until then, Tadazak will be a professional dream chaser on the ice, in the classroom and in service to his country.
“He embodies the Lapeer spirit we always talk about,” Wandrie said. “We’re proud he’s one of ours.”