The fast-paced, aggressive game of ice hockey is widely popular in NEPA, thanks to the Wilkes-Barre/ Scranton Penguins. As kids stare wide-eyed at their favorite players, wishing to one day become an NHL great, one local youth has had his eyes on the prize from the ripe old age of three.
Lake-Lehman 8th-grader Zach Ouladelhadjamed has tried a little bit of everything, but ice hockey has been the one thing that has always mattered most. Throughout his 14 years, the youth has also played soccer, basketball, baseball, cross country, and has done a fair amount of modeling. But, nothing measures up to the feeling he gets when he puts on his skates and steps onto the ice.
“It definitely ranks number one compared to the other sports,” he said.
After learning to skate at the ripe old age of three at the Ice Box, in Pittston, he went on to learn the fundamentals and rules of the game. He thinks skating backwards took the most time to develop. But, his love of the sport has continued to grow and he plans to pursue it.
Normally an offensive player, Ouladelhadjamed loves the feeling he gets when he makes a goal.
“Like when you score, it feels good,” he said, with a smile.
Even though he has been playing for so long, Ouladelhadjamed still finds things he needs to improve upon.
“Stick handling is what I need work on,” he said. “I have trouble getting it down without fumbling it.”
But Coach Brian Tweedy said he has already seen great improvement in Ouladelhadjamed over the two years he’s been coaching.
“Without a doubt, I’ve seen improvement in his game play and awareness on the ice,” Tweedy explained.
As a current member of the Junior Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins, Ouladelhadjamed plays at the Bantam A level. This opportunity has opened so many doors and has given him the experience he needs to continue with his hockey career.
“It’s beneficial because it gets him to travel and compete against better competition instead of only in-house games,” Tweedy added.
Ouladelhadjamed tries to stay faithful to every team for which he plays. Having multiple games on the weekends can get hectic, but getting to each game is important to him. After playing in a heated soccer game on a recent Saturday afternoon and leaving the field with a swollen eye, his parents rushed him to the Ice Rink at Coal Street Park, with ice on his eye, for a hockey game in which he begged to play regardless of his fresh injury.
Over the years other injuries have occurred, like broken wrists during hockey and soccer games, but that never seemed to stop him.
“During one of his wrist injuries, we wrapped his cast in bubble wrap to play,” his mom, Carla, said.
But even when he couldn’t play, he sat and cheered his team on.
Although it could seem hectic and overwhelming at times with traveling and injuries, his parents, Hatim and Carla, support Zach every step of the way.
“It keeps him out of trouble, it keeps him fit, and he loves it,” Carla said.
Ice hockey is a 24/7 commitment for the Ouladelhadjamed family. If the family members aren’t traveling to games or practices for Zach, they enjoy watching the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins or Pittsburgh Penguins games.
“Because we have season tickets, we’re sometimes on the road for his games and we’ll end up driving back for a Penguins game, but then we’ll record Pittsburgh so we can go home and watch it,” Carla laughed.
Zach enjoys watching the games as much as he likes playing in them and always cheers on his favorite professional player, Sidney Crosby.
Needless to say, these are true hockey fans with true dedication to the sport.
“We really had no clue what we were getting ourselves into,” Hatim said.
Ice hockey isn’t just a winter sport for Zach, as the season usually lasts from August to May. Even in the summer months, he finds teams to play with just for fun and to keep up his skill.
“The summer session is more for practice and fun,” Carla said. “Winter sessions are more competitive.”
When he’s not competing on the ice or watching other games, he’s playing hockey in his basement or practicing soccer outside with his father.
“Sports take up most of my time,” he said. “If I’m not doing sports I play Xbox or work on my homework for school.”
As competitive as hockey is, his parents and coaches remind Zach and his teammates that it is most important to have fun. Not a tough lesson for a teenager, is it?