A young man who's seen change and various transition
By: Jair Ascencio Brooks-Davis
As people, we spend time enjoying our lives. Most students wake up, we have breakfast, take the school bus and go off to school. If we played a sport, we'd have practice. Practice would sometimes be before the school day started or after the school day ends. Some people and some athletes have the chance to be home, in the same town where they grew up, know the same people that they've known for years. What is it like to grow up on the other side of the world and have to travel to the other side to find your way?
Mark Zhukov is a 20-year-old center from St. Petersburg, Russia. On a Tuesday, he wakes up on the south side of Curry College and gets ready along with his roommates, Logan Scarlotta and Nicholas Favaro for captains' practice. Zhukov packs up his workout gear, and last but not least before he leaves his room, he puts on his headband that he's become notorious for wearing as he is ready and excited to prove himself in front of the rest of the team.
(Mark, right, working out with roommate, Nicholas Favaro.)
At practice, he does very well with the teams' skills workouts. Zhukov and the rest of the freshmen fit right in with the culture of Curry Hockey. Unfortunately, on one of the plays, he slips and bangs his knee right into the wall as he is attempting a shot to which everyone stopped. Zhukov held his knee briefly before he shrugged it and shook it off and went back to the station drills. He's had moments throughout his life where he's dealt with pain mentally and physically. "Try not to show pain and fear on the ice. If the opponent senses it in you, they can taste blood," Zhukov said.
Zhukov has had to show no pain and no fear for years. He is one of four freshmen that Head Coach TJ Manastersky recruited for the 2019-2020 hockey season. Zhukov traveled across the world where he moved from St. Petersburg, Russia to Canada to attend The Hill Academy. Mark was only 14 when he arrived in Canada. He lived with eight of his teammates in a room that was 45 minutes from his school. Zhukov had many days with many early hours having to take the bus at 6:30 in the morning to school.
While trying to adjust to life in Canada, he had some trouble getting along with his teammates. "Some of them were just mean and hurtful to me because I'm from a much farther and different country compared to them. They looked at me very differently; however, I still had teammates that I got along with and helped me get through it," Mark said. Kids would often try to test Zhukov and occasionally, Mark would find himself in fights with various people. "People would insult me and talk about my family. They would chirp me about being Russian and insult me about my nationality."
(To end a day after a morning run, Mark gets a quick lift in.)
Imagine being 14 years old in a different country, not knowing anyone, having to live with a random group of people, being made fun of, and insulted from time to time. That would make anyone miss home and miss everything he grew up knowing. "I was homesick, but I knew what my mission was in Canada. I knew I had to go to class and do my best with hockey. Those things distracted me from all the hate and discouragement I was receiving," said Zhukov.
In Mark's second year, he had the opportunity to live with a math teacher who made it to the Frozen Four in his hockey career. "The living situation was much better compared to my first year. I called him 'coach' because he would always give me tips and suggestions about how to be better both on and off the ice.
In Zhukov's final year in Canada, he had the chance to live with a friend and his family. Mark didn't have that many early mornings since the academy was a 15-20 minute drive. His luck changed for the better since the family he lived with cooked Russian food. "I was so happy," he said. "My friends' mom would 'legit' cook all my Russian favorites. She would cook us breakfast, pack our school lunches for us, and would have dinner ready for us in the evening."
Although Mark was happier with his living situation, he wanted a different experience. His time in Canada had its peaks and valleys. "I wanted a change of scenery," Zhukov said. "Throughout my experience in Canada, I felt as if I was there on a mission to complete my work and do well playing hockey. I tried to use my focus and grind to distract me from the other things I had to deal with."
Between those years, during the summer, Mark would always go back home to Russia to spend time with his family and relatives. Most would wonder if he had the chance to learn English. Surprisingly, he learned the basics while living in Russia for years and while living in Canada, he had the chance to perfect his English.
When was 18, he first came to Boston as he was getting ready to play junior hockey for the Boston Jr. Bandits. "I was excited about my transition," Mark said. "I knew that going down this road, I had a chance to play collegiate hockey after a few years of juniors. When I first got to the Bandits, I worked very hard. I just wanted to be a better player and a better person on and off the ice."
Something that you'd rarely see happened to Zhukov in his rookie year of playing Juniors for the Boston Jr. Bandits; he became an Assistant Captain two months into the season. "I guess that because of my presence in the locker room," Mark said." It had helped me become an Assistant Captain as time progressed during my first season in juniors. I would always try to say the right stuff around my teammates and motivate them. During games, I would sacrifice my body if it were for the best interest of the team." Mark finished the season with 11 goals and eight assists for 19 points.
(Zhukov, #9 celebrating a goal while playing with the Boston Jr. Bandits)
In Mark's second year with the Boston Jr. Bandits, he had some high points and low points. He was officially named team captain. However, he had to adjust to a letter role compared to his first year with the club. "I was taken off the power play," Zhukov said. "My job was to stand in front of the net. They gave that assignment to a guy that just got there. They let me stay in my role to do penalty kills." The coaches knew that college was on the horizon for Mark and knew he wanted to prove himself on the ice. That's why they asked him if he was willing to be traded to another team for a top-six guy for more opportunity to play.
(Mark while as a Captain for the Boston Jr. Bandits)
"When I was asked to if I wanted to be traded, I thought about it," Mark said. "However I came to the realization that it was better for me to play. I liked the guys I was playing with and I was the captain. The team mattered a lot to me." Zhukov declined and gladly chose to stay with the Jr. Bandits. A kid that was willing to sacrifice his opportunities in what was his last year of junior hockey? His decision stood out to the coaching staff and many people follwing the team, including Curry head coach, TJ Manastersky.
Mark finished his second season with the Bandits with five goals and 19 assists for 24 total points. While finishing his season with the Bandits, he was looking to attend college. "I looked at Endicott, the University of New England, and Salem State University, but I felt that TJ was providing me the best opportunity at Curry College," Mark said. "I enjoyed the visit to the school with my dad and once I committed, he popped champagne in the admissions office to celebrate."
"When Boris (Mark's father) took the champagne out of his bag, it really resonated with me how meaningful it was to the Zhukov family," Manastersky said. "The journey that Mark has taken is very different than the average North American hockey player. The amount of sacrifice and dedication by the entire family to creat this opportunity for him is incredible. It was a powerful moment I won't soon forget."
(Mark, #10 while on a shift during practice)
A few years ago, a 14-year-old boy traveled across the world from Russia to Canada to begin a great opportunity for himself. Through all of the problems and the rough times, he never lost focus on the goal that meant the most to him. It was a dream for him and his family to attend college in the United States and get the chance to play college hockey. One would think that for all the year's that Mark's been away, how does he feel to be away from home all these years? "I'm used to it by now," said Zhukov. "I'm always traveling and I go to Vancouver often to visit my sister."
For Mark's whole family, it's a dream come true for someone who persevered through adversity and rough times. Zhukov is excited to play with his new teammates and showcase himself. This season, the Curry College men's ice hockey team has many things to look forward to, starting from the move from the Max Ulin Rink to the Canton Ice House. The team is also planning a trip to Europe. What a nice start to start college hockey as a freshman?
Zhukov is excited for his first year with Curry Hockey; a team that is coming off a season of wonderful success. He hopes to fit in as he begins his college career both academically and athletically.
(Mark, #7 during media day with Curry College Hockey)
Jair Ascencio Brooks-Davis is a senior Multimedia Journalist at Curry College. He's done Sideline Reporting and Videos for the Curry College Men's Ice Hockey Team and Curry College Men's Lacrosse Team. Follow him on Instagram @jair.bd. Also follow @currycollegehockey on Instagram, Twitter and follow the Facebook page Curry College Men's Hockey.