By Gib Snyder III
When Dunkirk Senior High School's doors open in early September, one member of its senior class will be missing, as Jake Majka will be in Philadelphia where he will join the defense of the Philadelphia Revolution of the Metropolitan Junior Hockey League.
Jake Majka will be spending his senior year of high school playing junior hockey for the Philadelphia Revolution of the Metropolitan Junior Hockey League.
"He actually has gotten most of it done already," Majka's mother Bridget said of what he has left to finish academically. "He is going to be a senior and he's already taken his SAT's, he has already met all of his Regents requirements as of January of this year and then he's on the part-time Dean's List at (Jamestown Community College), because he takes classes at JCC here in Dunkirk. So he really tried to get everything done just in case he would be able to leave."
Majka, who is also the son of Dunkirk Varsity Football Coach Tim Majka, will be leaving later this week to take the next step in his hockey career, something he's been working hard at since he was just a youngster playing in the NCCYHA.
"It's great," Majka said of seeing his hard work pay off. "Just seeing everything that I've done to get to this point and to know that one person, one coach believes in me enough to give me a chance, I feel validated for everything that I've done."
Anyone involved in youth hockey at the level the Majka family is knows that it involves a lot of traveling and combines where junior coaches evaluate players from all over.
"Two years ago, he got invited to the USHL combine and from that he had a lot of interest," Bridget Majka said. "So the past two summers, we've been to a lot of different junior hockey tryouts for the USHL and the NAHL.
"We were in Michigan when (Philadelphia head coach John Ambrofe) happened to see Jake," she continued. "(Jake's) still on the young side still for junior hockey, for the big leagues before college. But (Ambrofe) happened to see Jake and he called him a week later and asked him to play for his team. It was a little bit of a surprise for us because we go to a lot of the tryouts knowing that he's 16, knowing that he needs to just get out there and be noticed. But (Ambrofe) saw him and asked him to play."
All of that traveling can take a toll on a family's finances, but for the Majkas, it has all been worth it.
"It's not easy," Bridget Majka said. "Any sport, when you're playing at that competitive of a level, is difficult, but hockey is different all-together. Especially here, where you have to drive 45 minutes just to find a pad of ice. It's been a little difficult for us. It's been a little expensive and we're not rich by any means, but it's been a whole family effort."
Majka, however, thinks he's ready to make the leap from playing for the Dunkirk-Fredonia Steelers to the Revolution.
"I think I'm as ready as I will be," Majka said. "I think it's going to prepare me for more hockey in the future. It's going to be a huge improvement, but I think I can do it. I have faith in myself.
"It's going to be hard at times and I know that," Majka added of being away from his family. "But I've been preparing myself for it for a while now, and I think I'll be OK knowing that it's what they want me to do. And knowing that it's what I want to do will help too."
Majka won't be leaving behind just his family, but his friends and teammates as well.
"They all seem pretty excited for me," Majka said of his friends. "Not all of them understand exactly what it is, but they still understand that it's a big thing in my life, so they're all pretty supportive about it.
"I'm going to miss playing here," Majka continued. "I've played with some of (my teammates) since I was four years old, so obviously it's going to be different playing with a bunch of new kids. It will definitely be a new experience and I'm sure I'll have some fun with it."
In terms of the type of player he patterns his game after, Majka noted one National Hockey League blueliner in particular.
"My favorite defenseman in the (National Hockey League) is Duncan Keith," Majka said. "And that's exactly how he is. He's steady on the back end, and he can contribute offensively, but he doesn't do anything really special. If I can be anything like that, that's what I'd try to be."
If he's successful at this level, Majka hopes the next step will be a more elite junior league, then a chance to play hockey at the college level. But first thing's first; Majka needs to establish himself as someone who can help Ambrofe's Revolution at the blue line.
"We haven't really talked about that much," Majka said of whether or not his coach has discussed what his role on the defense will be. "I'm sure I'll know more about that when I get to training camp. I know it's at least a top six role playing in most of the games and just trying to contribute to the team in any way I can."