**Article written by Pat Neumuth of The Freeman in Waukesha, Wisconsin**
WAUKESHA, WI — An unpaid internship for college students is usually a way to get into a “real world” business atmosphere.
Jake Kupsky has used his unpaid internship to get into college. Kupsky, a goaltender for the Lone Star Brahmas of the North American Hockey League, needed a year of junior hockey to help him get a scholarship to play at Union College in Schenectady, N.Y.
“Their coaching staff is one-of-a-kind, and their goalie coach and I got along very well,” Kupsky said. “It’s a smaller school, which was ideal for me with the academic part of it. And they had something no other D1 school had, which was they won the national championship last year, so that really drew me to them. “It just sounded like the perfect fit for me.”
Waukesha Wings coach Raja Aylsworth said Kupsky, a Waukesha West High School graduate, is the first player in his nine years coaching the team to get a college scholarship to play hockey, and the coach thought Kupsky may also be the first in the program history to earn a scholarship.
“At the high school level we are trying to instill a work ethic, and if they work hard and stay committed and do the right things, and you also have to have that skill set to go with, you will get individuals that can put it all together,” Aylsworth said. “He continually worked in our program and got better year after year. Everyone around him — his family, this team, us coaches— has put him into a position to succeed and he’s taken advantage of it.”
Kupsky was a standout goaltender for the Wings last winter. Going the junior hockey route after graduating high school is very common. In fact, many players will compete in juniors before they graduate high school. Kupsky was talented enough to do just that, but he liked minding the net for the Wings.
“For me it was always about game development, and unfortunately I didn’t see any junior team that fit with me where I could get a lot of games and develop that way,” Kupsky said. “I felt staying in high school another year wasn’t really that bad, because I was going to be in all the games.
“Playing in a game instead of practicing is very different for a goalie. You develop in practice but there’s a different development when it comes to a game, so I felt the more games I saw the better off I’d be.”
Added his father, David, an assistant coach with the Wings, “I think too many kids want to rush into it and there is no rush. Enjoy your high school career, it’s some of the best times of your life.”
Playing in the NAHL has felt like an internship, because hockey is sort of Kupsky’s job right now – but he’s not getting paid. Kupsky is not in school, and everyday is geared toward hockey. Practices are two hours a day, plus he’s working out with the team before each practice. Game days are Fridays and Saturdays, and there’s a morning skate before each game.
“It’s cool to focus on hockey and not worry about school,” Kupsky said. “It’s a different experience.”
Kupsky said playing for the Brahmas is a good way to get used to the speed of collegiate hockey. Like any new level in athletics, playing in the NAHL has been a step up, yet Kupsky continues to excel. This season he’s played in 13 games with 11 starts and has 10 victories, one loss and one overtime loss with one shut out on his record. Kupsky has made 249 saves, has a 1.86 goals-against average and a .915 save percentage. Kupsky’s goals-against average ranks third in the NAHL.
“I have great coaches here that have helped in my development,” Kupsky said. “Just playing a lot of games and practicing every day with the skilled guys on my team has really helped me improve as a goalie.”
David Kupsky has watched a live stream of every Brahmas game on the Internet. He’s traveled to North Richland Hills, Texas, near Dallas, twice and has seen eight games live — and his son played in four of those games.
“He’s done a good job. Looking at his save percentage, he’s only lost one game in regulation, he’s adjusted to the speed very well,” David Kupsky said. “We’ve told him every step up is just another step up in his development.”
Kupsky still thinks he’s getting good game development despite sharing the net with teammate TJ Black. Black has started 15 games and was the full-time goaltender for the Brahmas last year. Kupsky bests Black in both save percentage and goals against average, while Black has a 9-5 record.
Kupsky said his playing time with Black with will probably stay 50-50 this season. He has a good relation-ship with Black and thinks he’s a talented goaltender.
“Right now it seems to be working, and we are winning a lot of games,” Kupsky said about the time-share in the crease. “In this league, if we split 50-50 that’s about 30 games, which is more games than the high school season.
“(Not playing every game) has been different for me because I’m not used to doing it. I sit on the sidelines and root for him, and during breaks I try and help him if he has questions about the game and help him get the W. When I’m in net, he does the same exact thing.”
Splitting time has also been a great learning experience for Kupsky. He’s learned some techniques from Black, but the biggest thing he’s learned is how to compete for a starting job. Kupsky had to earn a right for a 50-50 split in net, and he will have to earn playing time next year at Union College.
Union will graduate two senior goalies from this season’s team, but the school has recruited another freshman goaltender and will have a junior goalie on the roster next season. Kupsky wasn’t guaranteed any playing, but the coaches told him they see him being the team’s top goalie in the future.
“I definitely feel the whole competition side and competing for playing time in every game and every drill this year, I will be ready for that,” Kupsky said. “It makes hockey better that you are always competing, because you can’t take a day off or a practice off. I feel coming into next year will be the same as this year, there will just be one more guy. Whoever works the hardest will get the job.”
David Kupsky said his son will have no problem competing for the job next season, because he said Jake has a real passion for the sport.
No matter whom Kupsky competes against for a starting spot, it’s tough to compete with his size — he measures 6-foot-5 and 210 pounds.
“Jake fills all the checked boxes of all the measurable,” Aylsworth said. “What’s rare about Jake is being that size and a goaltender. A lot of times you get guys that are less athletic and don’t move as well, but are big and take up a lot of the net. Jake’s athleticism to move at his size is unique.”
Kupsky also has a great role model who’s been down a similar path. Troy Grosenick, a 2007 Brookfield East graduate, was the starting goalie for Union College during the 2012-13 season. Grosenick recently set a record Nov. 16 with the most saves in a shutout debut when he made 45 saves for the San Jose Sharks.
“It kind of sets up a perspective of something that I could do,” Kupsky said about possibly making it to the NHL. “My No. 1 goal with hockey was to play Division I college, and the NHL was an afterthought. Now that I’ve committed and talked with their goalie coach and how I’ve developed over the past couple of years, the NHL is something I’d be interested in doing and something I’m working toward.”
Despite not having any schoolwork this year, Kupsky still has his education as a large goal. Kupsky said he wants to graduate with a 3.0 grade-point average. He also has one major hockey goal he’d like to accomplish at Union. “I’d like to win a national championship because that would be pretty cool,” Kupsky said. “Other than that, I don’t know because I haven’t seen the atmosphere. I’m waiting for next year to come.”
But this year he is focused on the Brahmas winning the Robertson Cup — the league title. They are currently in playoff contention with the team in second place in the South Division.