By Mark Monroe
The Toledo Blade
TOLEDO, Ohio – It was not much more than 24 hours after Josh Zavitz made it through another grueling interview with a group of educators for admittance into medical school when he found himself throwing haymakers in Reading, Pa.
Zavitz, a 23-year-old defense-man for the Toledo Storm, is in his first year of professional hockey and is an aspiring physician. In between checks and fights, Zavitz reads medical books and assists the team doctor. He has applied to a handful of medical schools, including one in Des Moines last month, during a road trip.
“Trying to get into medical school is very intimidating – it’s a long process,” Zavitz said, “then I’m throwing checks and dropping the gloves. It’s a change, that’s for sure.”
Zavitz graduated from Canisius College last year with a 3.85 grade-point average. He majored in psychology and twice made the Atlantic Hockey Conference All-Academic team.
The self described stay-at-home defenseman has collected nine points, with one goal and eight assists in 62 games.
Storm coach Nick Vitucci said he was so impressed with Zavitz’s “drive to succeed in life” that he began recruiting him very heavily last summer.
“Some people think these guys are just hockey players, rough and tough guys. But they also have lives and aspirations away from hockey,” Vitucci said. “He is a perfect example of that. One day he’s sitting in front of an impressive group of people and two days later he is fighting in front of another group of people.”
Zavitz, who always excelled in school, said he first became interested in the medical field when he broke his femur while playing junior hockey. He told Vitucci that he wanted to have the chance to focus on his medical studies as well as playing.
Zavitz has worked with UT professor Dr. Frank Pizza in the department of kinesiology, studying the healing process of skeletal muscle injuries.
He also has been learning from the Storm’s team physician, Dr. Fred Workman, observing him stitching and bandaging.
“If guys get injured I like to get right in there. My roommate [Chris Blight] lost a few teeth and I watched him work on that,” he said. “The guys joke about it. They always ask, ‘Is Zavy going to stitch me up?’ They like to chirp. But they’re really supportive.”
Zavitz’s contributions to the local community also have been remarkable. Zavitz is a mentor in an after-school program for innercity youths at Salem Lutheran Church. He and his teammates make weekly trips to children’s hospitals. Zavitz led an effort to purchase gifts for a needy family during the Christmas season.
“I had him at my son’s school,” Vitucci said. “Not only can we count on him to do things that are asked of the team, he goes out and finds other things to do. That just says so much about his professionalism and character.”
Zavitz, who is actively involved in the Storm’s Read to Score program, recently acted out a Johnny Appleseed book and then played floor hockey with the kids.
“I just enjoy helping and tutoring kids. It becomes a lifestyle. I have the extra time so why not give back,” he said. “It may be only five minutes of our time, but the children will remember that forever.”
Zavitz grew up with eight brothers. All of them have names that begin with the letter ‘J’ and he said the competitive nature of having so many siblings drove him “academically, socially and with hockey.”
“That really shaped the person I am today,” he said. “I grew up with six older brothers and eight total. You had to work that much harder to get attention. So you’re always playing a sport and competing. When we were younger we’d play road hockey or basketball and it always ended up with a wrestling match in the yard.”
His hometown is Harrow, Ont., which is about 30 miles south of Windsor, so his family is able to see him play occasionally at the Sports Arena.
Zavitz said the odds of getting accepted into medical school are daunting. He said at one school in Ontario only 400 were accepted out of 4,000 applicants. Zavitz has already taken a big step by taking the MCAT, which is a test that takes a full day. But Zavitz said it may be just as difficult for him to play hockey at the next level.
If he’s accepted, Zavitz said he would have to hang up his skates.