Published April 3, 2020 – by Terry Lengenfelder
Certain expectations go along with growing up near a city famous for hockey, but that pressure never stopped Christian Gorscak from believing that he could be the guy to follow the lead of the great hockey players he admired on the Johnstown Chiefs.
Gorscak, a forward with the Johnstown Tomahawks, recently was selected as the Most Valuable Player and Forward of the Year for the North American Hockey League. It’s the first time a “Hawk” received such distinction in the team’s eight-year history – a first for a player in the NAHL’s East Division – and he did it on the ice of his childhood heroes.
“It’s such a great honor,” the Jeannette native said. “I am super blessed to receive these awards and play in Johnstown for three years, but I couldn’t have done it without my teammates, coaches, billet families and especially the people of Johnstown.”
His statistics are impressive (25 goals and 64 points), but there’s so much more to this 19-year-old that makes him a role model for others to follow.
“One of his biggest qualities is enthusiasm to succeed,” explained David Kosick, general manager of the Esmark Stars, Gorscak’s former team. “He’s like a sponge, absorbing any and all information that can help him” and his team.
Gor, as his fellow Tomahawks call him, began skating at the ripe old age of two and waited impatiently until four to play organized hockey. From the Allegheny Badgers through the Amateur Pens (Harmarville), Pittsburgh Selects and Esmark Stars, he continued to hone his skills and learn about teamwork.
“It was never a question of if he would play hockey, said his mother, Tara Gorscak. “It was only when.”
Then, he wasn’t selected to play for the team he wanted in his younger years. That might stop some players–not this one. As is his way, Gorscak found the positive.
“Christian always makes the best of his next opportunity,” said his father, Gary Gorscak. “That’s one of his greatest attributes.”
“I got to go to the Quebec International Tournament that year,” Gor said. It was an opportunity of a lifetime, setting him up to capture the attention of several coaches, specifically Mike Letizia, Tomahawks head coach.
“When you’re scouting a player, you recognize his work ethic and how he thinks,” Letizia explained. So, the team tendered the teen to the Tomahawks for his talent on and off the ice.
“I watched how he conducted himself and how he treated the kids,” when he assisted with the Hawks hockey school, Letizia added. “It was humbling and rewarding to then watch his career develop.”
“He’s got everything a hockey player needs,” said Yuri Krivokhija, Esmark Stars coach. “His hockey IQ lets him predict what will happen and fulfill scoring opportunities.”
In Gorscak’s first season with the Tomahawks, those opportunities seemed few and far between. That year was tough for the team, and the seventeen-year-old, once again, steered his goals toward developing his abilities and staying positive.
“He was one of the happiest kids around,” said Cade Groton, Gorscak’s first Tomahawk captain. “He made it easier to show up at the rink every day.” But, with just a handful of players returning for Season Two, Gor said he didn’t know what to expect.
Former teammate Sammy Solensky knew how Gorscak would respond.
“Christian is a hard-working player, and he deserves everything he gets,” Solensky said. “He came to the rink every day to get better. It doesn’t surprise me than he became a team leader and one of the best players in the league.”
“Coach Mike and Coach Nick (Perri) recruited some unbelievable players (for the award winner’s second season),” Gorscak said. “We all wanted each other to succeed.” And succeed they did, as the team competed for the NAHL’s Robertson Cup, a first in franchise history.
Yet Gorscak didn’t rest on his laurels. Through the summer, he continued to train with Si Bishop, sports performance coach at The Training Room in Pittsburgh.
Christian “sets the standard,” Bishop explained. “Each year, he has a focus in mind and has always been a quiet leader. I’m impressed with him every day.”
Those who know him well can list many reasons to be impressed, yet Gorscak stays humble, crediting his coaches and teammates with pushing him to be the best player and person he could be.
“Hockey is more than a sport, especially in Johnstown,” he said. “Through community service, we learn how to become young men and role models for younger kids. I learned how to be a man and carry myself that way.”
“He makes sure he does what’s right,” added his mother. “He’s tenacious and relentless from the first minute to the last. He’s worked so hard, and he’s been blessed, but he’s a blessing to others, as well. I’m so proud of what he stands for.”
That attitude played a big part in his receiving a scholarship to Division I Niagara University in New York explained Jason Lammers, head coach and Pittsburgh area native. (The soon-to-be freshman will major in elementary education.)
“I’m excited about being on the Niagara team,” Gorscak said. “The school has a great coaching staff and great players. I was drawn to the beautiful campus, and I’m hoping to get some championships there.”
Sure, Gorscak’s hockey abilities caught the coach’s attention, but it was something else that clinched the decision.
At Niagara, “we’re looking to grow men as people, students and players,” the coach said. “I saw his coachability, leadership characteristics and determination, and he’s from my home area. Players like Christian are the reason I love coaching.”
“I always want to make someone proud,” Gorscak said. “I’ve made life-long friends and ‘family’, and I’ve been blessed to play with great people.
Gorscak was “so loyal,” Letizia said. “For a lot of kids, it’s a ‘what can you do for me’ world. Christian’s not like that.
“My advice to him is to never change his personality. Believe in himself always. He has so much talent inside of him that, with self-confidence, he will be amazed at even how much more he will accomplish.”
“We meet (new) people every day,” Kosick added. “Christian is one who will leave an indelible mark” on your life.