Kenai River Brown Bears forward Jonathan Marzec is 5-foot-7. He got his start skating on ponds. He’s played a massive number of his games in hockey-mad Canada.
And he plays in the manner that would be expected of a player with those attributes — like every shift is his last.
“He’s got a high compete level,” Kenai River head coach Jeff Worlton said of Marzec, the billet son of Brooke Young of Soldotna. “He’s a little guy that plays with a chip on his shoulder.
“He’s a guy that makes plays, and that can also put the puck in the net.”
Marzec grew up in Spokane, Washington, and started playing on ponds when he was about 3. His parents, Jon Marzec and Kathy King, had some friends just out of town and their son would play with those friends’ children.
“Their kids liked hockey, but it wasn’t crazy,” Marzec said. “But I really liked it.”
Marzec’s parents signed him up for teams at Eagles Ice Arena in Spokane.
“Every week, we got to go to Canada,” he said. “It was only two hours to the border, so we always got to play Canadian teams.
“I got to learn what hockey is like there. It was also nice because I missed school on Fridays.”
Marzec is 20 years old, meaning he is in his last year of junior eligibility. For the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons, he played with the Spokane Braves of the Junior B Kootenay International Junior Hockey League, where all the teams except for the Braves are in British Columbia.
Then last season, he spent most of his time with the Cochrane (Ontario) Crunch of the Junior A Northern Ontario Hockey League, collecting 23 goals and 32 assists in 37 games.
“It’s more physical in Canada,” Marzec said. “It’s all about separating the body from the puck.”
Worlton said the Bears became aware of Marzec thanks to director of scouting Rich Michalowski watching the forward play on the Internet.
Marzec was then taken in the sixth round of the NAHL Draft by the Bears and made the team at main camp.
“That chip is bigger than I thought,” Worlton said of the difference of seeing Marzec in person. “He plays bigger than he is.
“He’s also a really good locker-room guy. He’s one of the few ’96s we have.”
Marzec said he learned a lot last season playing in a small Canadian town without much else around.
“You’ve got to lead by example, and there’s only so much time left so you’ve got to give it your all,” he said. “You can’t take it for granted.
“It’s an exciting time to be playing in the North American Hockey League. It’s the League of Opportunity. You never know who will be watching.”
Worlton said the step Marzec must now take is more consistently getting the puck in the net.
Marzec is tied for the team lead with eight points, but he just scored his first goal of the season Saturday night.
“It was in the last minute, but it was nice to finally get the monkey off my back,” Marzec said. “It’s huge. I want to build off of it and get on a roll.”
Marzec has some Division III opportunities lined up, but his first goal is Division I.
He knows the type of work it takes for a 5-7 player to make it that far.
“It’s always against me,” Marzec said. “Everyone is always looking at the small guy like you’re not good or there’s not much room for improvement.
“That just means you have to work harder.”
And Worlton said that sets a great example for the team.
“If he was 6-2 he’d probably be playing major Division I college, or playing USHL,” Worlton said. “He’s a small guy that plays with a big heart and plays every shift like it’s his last.
“He’s hard to get off the ice because he takes longer shifts because he wants to win games.”