The books piled high on the library table, as Kevin Czuczman buried his head in a Business Law textbook the night before a final exam. Czuczman was cramming in a full slate of review and catching up on all the homework he missed during a 31-day absence from Lake Superior State University.
Signing a two-year deal with the New York Islanders was a worthy reason to miss a month’s worth of class, but Czuczman’s on-campus accolades – MVP and top defenseman of the LSS Lakers – and his exciting NHL debut were a distant memory as he grinded his way through 13 exams in seven days.
Czuczman learned that academic two-a-days can be just as tough as the athletic ones.
“I can’t even explain how ridiculous it was playing in all those games and then writing all those tests,” Czuczman said. “I wrote as many exams as I played NHL games.”
The Islanders called Czuczman up from the classroom to the Coliseum for the final 13 games of the regular season. Just shy of a three-year accelerated degree, it was an easy decision for the 23-year-old to finish his education, even if it was a grind.
“It was something I never want to do again, but I am definitely proud of myself for getting it done,” he said.
Czuczman’s perseverance resulted in a 3.56 GPA, a Finance and Economics degree and a great sense of accomplishment. He walked across the commencement stage on May 4, three weeks after playing the Islanders season finale in Buffalo.
“It was really important for my family and me to get that degree,” Czuczman said. “There’s that peace of mind that you have that to fall back on … and no one can ever take that away from you.”
Czuczman’s school life intertwined with his pro hockey persona. He kept with his online courses and readings throughout his first stint in the NHL and still felt like he was partially in “school mode,” but admitted the transition back to full-time college life was weird.
Czuczman isn’t the only Islander back on campus, as Anders Lee is wrapping up his degree at Notre Dame. While Czuczman spent his nights on Long Island reading through textbooks and completing online courses, Lee deferred his final two classes – both electives – to the summer semester.
“It’ll be strange thinking about academics again,” Lee said. “It’ll be a little weird after being out for a year.”
Lee was a popular athlete at Notre Dame before playing on the Islanders top line, but could return to South Bend, ID, a celebrity.
“Being able to walk across the stage at Notre Dame is quite an accomplishment and something I’ve always taken pride in achieving. Now that I am right there, it’s something that I’m really proud of.” - Anders Lee
“It happens,” Lee said of being stopped in the halls. “It’s a small enough school where you know a lot of people there, but there are a lot of high-profile students on the Notre Dame campus.”
Lake Superior State and Notre Dame both marked the returns of their NHLers. Czuczman spoke at the team’s final banquet, where he was honored as a senior player despite graduating in his junior year. Notre Dame let Lee walk across the stage at convocation before officially graduating, allowing him the chance to graduate with friends and teammates.
“Being able to walk across the stage at Notre Dame is quite an accomplishment and something I’ve always taken pride in achieving,” Lee said. “Now that I am right there, it’s something that I’m really proud of.”
He’ll also be on the ice this summer training with the Fighting Irish and mentoring some of the younger players, which he described as giving back after all the support he received along the way.
The end of undergrad signals a life accomplishment for both young men, who took their educations as seriously as they take their hockey careers.
With degrees in hand, Czuczman and Lee are set to head out into the work force.
The NHL is a pretty good first job out of school.