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Kolenda prepares for future beyond Niagara hockey

It was an hour most college students don’t see, but senior Dan Kolenda was up at 6:30 on a Saturday morning, preparing for his interview. His morning would be spent in Buffalo, interviewing at D’Youville for admission into its physician’s assistant program. By noon he was back on campus at Niagara, eating a pregame meal with his teammates.

At 7 p.m. he was ready for opening faceoff at Dwyer Arena and scored the only goal for the Purple Eagles in a 3-1 loss to Bentley.

It’s all part of the process for many senior student-athletes – preparing for life after graduation while leading their team on one final run.

Kolenda has balanced his time well for the Purple Eagles this season, applying to physician assistant programs while leading Niagara in scoring with seven goals and 11 points. While he has an eye toward his own future, he’s looking to lead Niagara back to the winning track. The Purple Eagles enter a home-and-home series with Mercyhurst in last place in Atlantic Hockey with a 3-8-1 mark.

“These are just building blocks and learning experiences for our team,” Kolenda said. “I think it’s managing your emotions and understanding what it takes to get where you are. It’s all about changing your mentality. By coming at it with a more positive perspective you will get wins. That’s what we’ve been trying to implement with the younger guys is a positive approach.”

A positive approach and excellent time management skills have Kolenda in a position to succeed both on and off the ice.

The native of Superior, Wis., knew when he was playing junior hockey in the CCHL that he wanted to pursue a medical career. His previous work as a home health aide made him appreciate interaction with patients which influenced his decision on a physician assistant track.

“First, you can make a little more direct patient interaction,” Kolenda said about choosing physician assistant over other medical fields. “Second is that it’s a two- to three-year program as opposed to medical school, which is eight. But mainly because you can talk to the patient and have closer interactions as opposed to other medical areas.”

Part of his decision to join the Purple Eagles was Niagara’s reputation as a strong science school. Niagara program has had its fair share of graduates advance to medical careers. Jon Marshall (1996-2000) is a radiologist at ECMC while Shayne Baylis (2001-05) and Dave Hominuk (2000-04) are both chiropractors in Ontario.

“It takes a special person, a special student, to be able to balance all that,” Niagara coach Dave Burkholder said. “Obviously their time management skills and priorities are in place. They might sacrifice other student activities to study and I see that with Dan.

“We want our kids to emulate Dan academically and how serious he takes it. It’s both being a student and being an athlete, and he’s been able to juggle both. For the nine freshmen and a lot of our younger guys, they’ve gravitated to Dan this year. Being a young team he’s a senior who is producing. He’s one of our best players this year and for the young guys to see that example on a daily basis is huge.”

Kolenda already has a career-best in goals and his 11 points aren’t far off the mark of the 16 he posted last season. The difference is that he is using his big frame – 6-foot-4, 230 pounds – to attack the net with the urgency that often comes during a college athlete’s final season.

“He’s being proactive, especially when he has the puck,” Burkholder said. “He’s not sitting back. He’s dictating the pace. He’s always been a real puck possession guy. When he gets it down low, no one can get it off him. We’re working with him to take it to the net more. You always hope a senior’s last year is his best and he’s doing that so far.”