Jack Yamniuk only spent the first four years of his life in Canada, but that was enough for the country’s national pastime to seep deep into his veins.

Jack Yamniuk

Jack Yamniuk has become one of the top ice hockey players in the CVC. (Photo by Sam Pastorella.)

“Hockey is a big part of the Canadian culture and my family,” the Lawrence High School junior said. “My dad has played his whole life and I grew up watching the hockey highlights every morning. I was on skates at the age of two.”

He started playing organized hockey at age 5, after his family moved to New Jersey. But he still got to sample a bit of Canadian upbringing with pond hockey.

“Every year my family and I would go back to Canada during Christmas break,” Yamniuk said. “We would go play hockey out on the lake near my grandparents’ house.”

With that passion firmly instilled, Jack has become a top-flight club hockey player, and is also one of the high echelon talents in the Colonial Valley Conference.

As a freshman center, he had just one assist in the Cardinals first 11 games before exploding for 17 goals and eight assists in the final 10.

His sophomore year was a washout, as a wrist injury kept him out for most of the season (although he still managed three goals and three assists in his brief time). He was also being asked to help out more defensively from his center spot, which detracted from his offense.

This season, in a COVID-19 delayed opening, Yamniuk scored two goals in a season-opening, 3-1 win over Hopewell Valley.

“I think this year is gonna be big for him,” third-year Cardinals’ coach Andrew Dudich said. “We’re able to put him with a couple better hockey players (Spencer Cohen, Michael Pirone) on his wings to support him. We do have a lot of freshmen who came in that are good defensively so that lets Jack focus on scoring.”

Yamniuk is a lifetime center although he has tried out for every position on the ice at one time, including goalie.

He began playing organized hockey for the Princeton Tigers, where his father served as his coach.

“My dad has been my main influence as a teacher and coach,” Yamniuk said. “He brought all of his knowledge from playing hockey in Canada to teach me. I’ve actually been very lucky in having great coaches who have encouraged me to follow my passion and grow my hockey skills, including Andrew Dudich and (Mercer Chiefs) coach Rob Broderick.”

Yamniuk went from Princeton to the Mount Laurel Jaguars, and also played for various summer teams. He is currently on the Mercer Chiefs U16 AAA National Team, where he is competing with and against some of the nation’s most skilled players.

It’s rare to find that type of talent across the board in high school hockey, as many travel players prefer to focus on their club programs. Thus, it was an adjustment for a high-caliber player like Yamniuk when he first arrived in the Colonial Valley Conference.

“As a freshman I think it took me a little time to get used to high school hockey,” he said. “I was a little nervous playing with such older guys, and it was a different style of play than I was used to. Once I got more comfortable with playing with older, bigger players I settled into playing the way I normally do and was lucky to find some success.”

What Jack calls luck, Dudich calls talent.

“He skates like the wind,” the former Steinert star said. “He’s got a low center of gravity, skates low to the ice. He keeps his head up. He’s strong on the puck in the corners.

“He’s also got strong legs, it’s hard to knock him off the puck and he’s got an explosive first step, which is rare when it comes to players who are usually that low to the ground. Usually they’re powerful skaters. Jack’s got a quick burst. His first step is usually blowing past the first guy and the third step is usually a long stride past the third guy.”

Dudich added that Yamniuk is a solid all-around player who can score, facilitate and defend. He is impressed that such a standout is willing to take on different roles rather than just trying to score with the Cardinals.

“The good thing about Jack is he plays well with everybody,” Dudich said. “He’s unselfish. You see a lot of higher end hockey players come into the CVC, they know they’re better than everyone else, they don’t use their teammates. Jack’s not like that, he’s always looking for the first pass. You know when the puck is on his stick that there is the thought there to feed it to his teammate.

“I think with the puck on his stick I wouldn’t want anyone else in front of the goal. With that being said, I think he’s going to turn into a playmaker at the next level. He makes a great first pass, he sees the ice well. I’d just say he’s a good, overall hockey player.”

Unfortunately for the Cardinals, this is the last year they can look up to him as the family is moving back to Canada after the school year. It will be another step for Dudich as he pursues a dream to play at the highest level possible.

“We’re moving to Vancouver, BC,” he said. “I’m definitely interested in continuing my hockey career and I have been looking at playing junior as well as college hockey either in Canada or in the US. For my senior year in high school I am planning to try out for some of the top local teams in the Vancouver area.”

As for now, he has just been trying to play as much hockey as possible as the pandemic continues to cancel all different sporting events at all different levels.

“Covid has definitely been disruptive to my travel hockey season and also delayed the start to the high school season,” Yamniuk said. “I’ve been lucky enough that my travel team was playing regularly and is continuing to play regularly but all of our long-distance travel has been cancelled. We originally were scheduled to go to Dallas, Minneapolis, Pittsburgh and some other cities.

“I have to get dressed outside and have to wear a mask up until I get onto the ice. Things are definitely different but I’m just glad that I get to be on the ice.”

And the Cardinals are glad to have him out there.