By: Joe Paisley
Air Force’s coaches didn’t want Tyler Rostenkowski anymore.
The junior forward appeared to be a recruiting misfire when his time to join the Atlantic Hockey Conference program neared. He wasn’t strong enough and was too slow to make the lineup.
After a freshman season when he had no game appearances, he didn’t even have a spot in the team locker room to start his sophomore season. It didn’t stop him from becoming an integral part of the Falcons.
“We didn’t give that kid anything,” Air Force coach Frank Serratore said. “He has earned everything. In fact, we did our best to get rid of him. We made things as miserable for him as possible and he simply would not go away, no matter what we did.”
Hockey, his teammates and the academy mean too much to the Bloomingdale, Ill., native to ever step away. The 5-foot-9, 183-pounder would gain weight, get stronger, improve his speed, ignore slights and even adjust to a sudden position change from defenseman to forward this offseason to stay a Falcon.
The Falcons (4-6-2) can look to him to contribute as they head into this weekend’s home-and-home series against Colorado College (0-12).
Rostenkowski scored the game-winner in Saturday’s road win over Sacred Heart and has blossomed into a valuable leader on a team loaded with underclassmen looking for an example.
They have one in him. Captain Max Hartner, another who converted from defenseman to forward recently, is grateful to have Rostenkowski on the team.
“He is a great guy for the freshmen to look to,” Hartner said. “He is a good listener and helps them with hockey, the academy and relationships. He is a good friend to have.”
Besides Hartner, there is no one in the locker room who is more respected than Rostenkowski by players and the coaching staff, Serratore said.
“When you’re in a situation like that you have two choices,” Rostenkowski said. “You can either move on or you can work harder. Hockey has given me dear friends, an entry into this academy and so much else throughout my life.”
Since Serratore does not rescind appointments to the academy, he was allowed in as a freshman and could stay on as a cadet while not playing the game he loved since his first skate at age 2.
After his rookie season, he was told he likely would not make the team as a sophomore. He was allowed to practice and dressed in a separate locker room with the student managers; a strong indication of a dim future with the team.
It would have been easy for Rostenkowski to quit. He admitted to considering it for a short time.
But a stall opened up in the team room and he has been there since. The coaching staff continued to push him. They determined he could best help the Falcons as a forward and forced his conversion this offseason. He accepted it with his remarkable positive attitude and work ethic.
“We thought that would be the end of him,” Serratore said. “Instead he beat out three or four guys for the roster spot.”
Rostenkowski has three points (two assists) in seven games this season after seven (six assists) in 14 games as a sophomore.
“I am grateful to my teammates and yes, the coaches, for their support,” he said. “I worked to stay here not for the name on the back of the jersey but the name on the front and my team.”
He received the most improved team award in spring and continues to surprise those outside the program with his perseverance.
“After all that stuff I mentioned, he has worked himself into a position where he is in the running for a leadership role (captain) next year,” Serratore said. “It is a real credit to his character. There are not a lot of people who could reinvent themselves and do so with a positive attitude. Everything he does is for the good of the team.
“We never expected he would still be on this team. I love it when people like that prove me wrong.”
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