It’s a name that means something in this town, especially in hockey circles.
And so when Winnipeggers see the name ‘Z-A-J-A-C’ across the back of a jersey it stands for something. Intangible things such as quiet leadership, consistency, and hockey intelligence.
The latest of the hockey-playing Zajacs is Nolan, a defenceman with the University of Denver who is attending this week’s Winnipeg Jets’ Development camp.
"I’m just trying to enjoy the experience right now, especially being a hometown guy and with a team you’ve been following since you were a kid," Zajac said after practice Thursday. "It’s a pretty awesome experience right now."
Nolan is the fourth of the Zajac boys to lace up skates and chase the pro game after father Tom played at the University of Denver in the 1970s. Travis is a mainstay and anchor with the New Jersey Devils while brothers Darcy and Kelly are both in the Devils’ system with the AHL’s Albany Devils.
Nolan wasn’t drafted and plans to finish up his communications/business degree at Denver. Then he hopes that, like his brothers, he can make a living playing the pro game. He attended the Vancouver Canucks’ Development Camp in 2012 and Chicago’s last year.
"That’s the dream, right? Everyone wants to be a pro player." said Nolan. "I see a lot of guys living the pro life and that’s what I want. Right now school comes first and hopefully hockey can take care of itself later."
Nolan Zajac turns 22 next month and first dreamed of playing goal — an obvious destination as the youngest of four brothers who were looking for somebody to stand in the net. But he’s been a productive point producer for Denver as a defenceman with 11 goals and 49 points over the last two years.
"When I was little, I always wanted to be a goalie. Street hockey, I was always the goalie. I loved it," Zajac said. "I also loved scoring goals, too, and so I think the happy medium was playing D. Maybe that’s why I’m defence.
"I don’t want to be known as a one-dimensional player. I think that’s my biggest asset, but I would like to be known as a two-way defenceman."
Not surprisingly, Zajac was asked Thursday about working in the shadow of his four brothers. And his answer spoke volumes of the Zajacs' upbringing.
"A lot of people might think it’s a burden. But I think it’s more of an asset," he said. "I definitely work on things, especially new skill work, that NHL teams are working on. They help me out with that and with advice as well."
The Jets D-Camp wraps up Friday with one session, at 10:45, at MTS Iceplex.