Pittsburgh Huskies Coach Spotlight: Cam Zmenkowski (18U Head Coach)
Cam Zmenkowski has come full circle as Pittsburgh Husky. As a player, Coach Cam competed in the USA Hockey National Championship tournament. After playing for the Huskies, he has returned to offer his services as a coach and mentor. Following in his father Craig’s footsteps, Cam is a second generation Huskies coach which perpetuates the winning attitude for which the Zmenkowski family has been known.
PittsburghHuskies.com was able to sit down with Cam to discuss his unique take on the Huskies organization.
Hi Cam. Thank you for taking the time to discuss your experiences with the Huskies. You have seen the organization from both sides of the proverbial fence. Let’s start with your playing experience. What insight can you provide from the player perspective?
I first came to the Pittsburgh Huskies organization my second year of 16U and continued to play for the Huskies the following season at the 18U level. During my time playing with the Huskies, I wore #21 representing the number that Bill Thomas, a local Fox Chapel player who my father coached when Bill was young. Bill went on to a professional playing career in the AHL, NHL, and is currently playing in the Asia League Ice Hockey (AL).
Even though I only played two short years for the Huskies, my favorite memories came from being a part of the Pittsburgh Huskies organization, with my favorite memory coming during my 18U season. Our team was put together as a national bound team and consisted of players coming from many different high schools. Most of us grew up playing against each other for most of our hockey careers so there was definitely a transition phase. Throughout the course of the season, our team – the players, coaches, and families – become so close with each other we grew into one big family.
We faced many obstacles throughout the season both as a team and as a family. During the State Playdown Tournament, which gives the team that wins the opportunity to move on to play in the USA Hockey Nationals Tournament, we lost to the Midstate Mustangs team. After losing this, our team was devastated. We all thought this would be the last time most of us played hockey and definitely thought is was the last time we would play together as a team. Following that tournament loss, our head coach, Vic Whann, got a call inviting our team to go to Michigan to play in the USA Hockey Nationals Tournament, due to the fact our team was in the top 10 in Tier II on MyHockeyRankings all season long. For six weeks during the season, we were ranked #1 in Tier II! I will never forget getting a second chance to play with my Huskies family one last time. The emotions we all felt after getting the text from Coach Whann saying were going to Nationals was something everyone on our team will never forget.
Many of my best friends came from the Huskies organization and I am thankful this organization helped bring all of us together.
On the flip side, what has your experience been as a coach for the Huskies?
In my first year as a Husky, at the a 16U level, I decided to give back to the sport and act as a student/junior coach with my father, Craig, who was coaching a Huskies PeeWee team at the time. During my first year as a junior coach, our PeeWee Huskies team won the PAHL playoff championship. For the next two seasons, I continued to assist my father coaching for the Huskies then became an assistant for Mike Hooks’ 18U Huskies team. When it became available, I took over as head coach with the Pittsburgh Huskies 18U team for the 2019-2020 season. We accomplished to win the Martin Luther King Invitations Tournament in Tampa, Florida and won the PAHL playoff championship.
How did you progress from player to coach?
After graduating from Fox Chapel, I decided to pursue two degrees from IUP in criminology and accounting. During this time, I could have played college hockey, but my passion in the realm of hockey changed to coaching and helping players prosper and grow with their hockey skills in addition to teaching them important life skills. Throughout my time at IUP, I continued to assist with coaching for the Pittsburgh Huskies. I recently decided to change college locations to Penn State World Campus in order to work as the second manager at a local gas station to the Pittsburgh area, American Natural, so I could continue to focus on giving back to hockey and the Huskies players that came to this organization after me.
Do you have a favorite memory as a coach?
Yes. My favorite memory as a coach for the Huskies has to be this past season (2019-2020) as head coach for the 18U team. Going in, I did not know the majority of players that I would be coaching. During the season, I saw many of our players become better hockey players and even better people and friends. Our team put in so much hard work and really came together as a family. This helped win the Martin Luther King Invitations Tournament in Tampa, Florida, then continuing on to win the PAHL playoff championship. As a coach, there is no better reward than seeing the players succeed both on and off the ice.
Can you share one thing you learned during your playing days that you now use as a coach?
One of the greatest lessons I learned playing with the Huskies is that hard work, dedication, and commitment will get you far in life. Never give up on yourself, on your team, on your friends, on your family, and on the people that support you. If you have your mind set on accomplishing something and you put in the effort, you can achieve it. There have been so many people in my life that never gave up on me as a hockey player and as a person. A lot of these people have been a part of the Huskies organization, past and present, and they continue to help me be a better coach, build better people, and make myself a better person.
Wow. That is something. Knowing that, what advice do you offer to your players?
One piece of advice I give to current Huskies players is to appreciate those playing with you and those who are helping you continue to succeed as a hockey player and person. Your team, both players and coaches, are always there for you. The Huskies strive to create a playing environment where you feel welcomed and part of one big family.
What do you feel differentiates the Huskies from other organizations?
I’ve played for many different ice hockey organizations throughout my time playing including the Pittsburgh Vipers, Amateur Penguins, North Pittsburgh Wildcats, and Pittsburgh Selects. Personally, the Pittsburgh Huskies organization did more for me as a player and person than any of my previous experiences. I didn’t know many players my first year playing for the Huskies organization at the 16U level, but the organization, staff, and my teammates made me feel a member of a family. I never had such a sense of brotherhood and camaraderie before joining the Huskies organization. The Huskies focus on bringing both players and families together as one huge family.
Thank you for your time, Cam, and best of luck in the upcoming season.
My pleasure. Thank you for reaching out. I think it’s a great idea to let people know who we are, both as an organization and as people. The Huskies have given me so much to be thankful for. I hope I can continue to pay it forward for many years to come.