By Steve Gunn
Local Sports Journal
MUSKEGON – Most of the young hockey players in town this week for the Muskegon Lumberjacks’ annual Tryout Camp are dreaming of the day they can play Division 1 college hockey.
Mark Yanis has been there and done that, and it didn’t work out the way he planned. Now he’s returning to his roots in the United States Hockey League to improve his game and find another college.
The 20-year-old defenseman spent the 2010-11 and 11-12 seasons with the Lumberjacks, then left to attend Penn State University on full-ride hockey scholarship.
But after two seasons he was stunned to learn that he was no longer in Penn State’s plans, and probably wouldn’t make the team in the 2014-15 season.
Yanis is planning to transfer to another college, but under NCAA rules he must sit out a season before playing hockey for a different school.
So he decided to come back to Muskegon and try out for his old team this week. The first step is earning an invitation to the Lumberjacks’ preseason training camp in August.
Yanis and the other players in this week’s Tryout Camp will compete in the annual Black and Gold scrimmage Friday at 1 p.m. at L.C. Walker Arena. The game is open to the public and admission is free.
The scrimmage will be the final event of the week-long camp. Later Friday afternoon the Lumberjacks will announce the 30 players they selected to attend the August camp with a chance to make the 2014-15 roster.
Yanis is hoping to be on that list.
“Hopefully at the end of the week they are happy with the way I played and I can end up here and help bring the Clark Cup here,” Yanis said.
Yanis said he was happy at Penn State, and was stunned to learn he was no longer in the hockey program’s plans. His freshman year was the first season the school competed in Division 1, and his plan was to grow and improve with the new program.
“We had a good year my freshman year and finished pretty close to .500,” Yanis said. “Last year I struggled a little bit and only played about 25 games. I got off to a rough start.
“At the end of the year they took me in the office and said I wasn’t part of their future plans. It came out of nowhere. I had already had my exit meeting (for the season) and was told to get in better shape and be prepared to earn my spot on the team next year, then two weeks later they kind of forced me out.
“The next day I made a decision. I talked to my advisor and my parents and now I’m here.”
While Yanis would obviously prefer to be in Happy Valley in the fall, preparing for his junior year of college hockey, he seems to have a good attitude about using his last year of junior eligibility in Muskegon.
“I loved (Penn State),” said Yanis, who grew up in Grosse Pointe, Michigan. “I loved it to death, all the friends I made and the people I met. I’m really going to miss it. But I’m here and I’m going to make the best of it. This was my home for two years and I’m comfortable here and I can be close to my family.
“It’s not taking a step back. I can help teach the younger kids. I’m not looking at it as a negative at all. The college game is so much faster and the players are so much stronger. l think I could use my strength and the things I learned to help this team.
“Every coach you play for can teach you something new. Whatever these coaches teach me I’m going to accept it and use it.”
If he makes the Lumberjacks, Yanis will be able to showcase his skills for the many college coaches and scouts who pass through the L.C. Walker Arena every winter.
“I’d like to stay close to home (for college),” said Yanis, who’s about half way to earning a bachelor’s degree in criminology. “I hope schools around the state show some interest. But I have to keep my options open and be ready to go anywhere.”
Yanis admits he’s already been teased a bit by the younger players in camp regarding his age, but he takes it with a sense of humor.
“It’s funny, because some of these guys have been like ‘Why are you here?'” he said. “Someone thought I was a dad or something. You kind of have to explain it to them. But it would be good to be a leader and help show these kids the ropes.”