New Hartford, N.Y - New Hartford native Annika Zalewski has seen her three older brothers climb into the ranks of professional hockey in different capacities, but now, it's her turn to break into the highest level of the game.
The former Spartans and Colgate Raiders standout signed a deal to play for the Buffalo Beauts of the National Women's Hockey League (NWHL), announced June 14.
With the women's pro league starting up back in 2015, it's given Zalewski a chance she never dreamed she'd get.
"Growing up the goal was always college hockey, but beyond that there wasn't much opportunity," said Zalewski. "the last five or six years it's become more of a reality, and it's so great that these girls have the opportunity to continue playing."
Now that she's officially a part of the still growing league, she said she can't wait to get started this upcoming season.
"I'm really excited, I'm really looking forward to next season and continuing my playing career," she said. "Obviously returning to Buffalo is special too so the whole thing is really exciting."
Following her junior year at New Hartford High School, Zalewski went on to attend Nichols School, a preparatory school out in Buffalo where she played for the school's girls team, as well as, the Buffalo Bisons girls travel hockey team. It's made the thought of beginning her professional career in western New York a very promising one.
"I think [Buffalo] is a great place to start," she said. "I'm comfortable there and it's nice to have that familiarity, and be close to home. I love the area, I like Buffalo and I'm excited to be there."
After Nichols, sh then went on to attend Colgate University, where she captained the Raiders to the best season in program history, including a berth in the national championship game this past season.
For the Zalewski family, it's yet another sibling that is diving into the world of professional hockey. Annika is following in the footsteps of her three older brothers, all of whom have played at some level of the pros (including her brother, Mike, who spent two seasons with the Utica Comets).
"That part is awesome, they've kind of lead the way for me, they've been my role models every step of the way," she said. "It's really cool to kind of follow in their footsteps and take this next step that they took as well."
Potentially the most exciting part for her is being able to be involved in a league that is currently expanding, and growing the game of hockey for women and girls everywhere.
"To me that's one of the most special parts is being able to grow the game of hockey and to contribute to this league that's on the rise," she said. "I'm really excited for the opportunity to do that, and I'm just looking forward to seeing where this league goes, and seeing the progress that it makes."
With a family full of professional hockey players, right now, it's Annika's time to shine.