COLCHESTER — Legendary Saint Michael’s College men’s ice hockey student-athlete John Gurskis ‘98 will have his No. 9 raised to the rafters at Cairns Arena in South Burlington on Saturday, Dec. 7, when the Purple Knights officially retire a uniform number for the first time in program history.
The banner ceremony for Gurskis will occur during his team’s Alumni Weekend, around 3:45 p.m. and just prior to Saint Michael’s taking on Castleton University at 4 p.m. An Alumni Game is slated for 11 a.m. that day.
“It is so great that we will finally put No. 9 where it belongs — in ‘the rafters’ forever,” said head coach Damian DiGiulian. “I want to congratulate John and his family for this tremendous honor. He was a once-in-a-generation player, and it will be fun to celebrate this momentous occasion with him, his family and hopefully many of his teammates.” Gurskis’ number has not been in circulation since Mike Ciardullo ‘07 wore it as a senior in 2006-07.
During Gurskis’ tenure, the Purple Knights were 58-36-2 overall and 37-17-2 in the old Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) Central, which Saint Michael’s won during his senior year for its first regular-season league title, later advancing to the 1998 ECAC North-Central-South Tournament championship game. That helped set the stage for the Purple Knights winning the NCAA Division II Championship the season following his graduation. A captain his senior year, Gurskis was a four-time NCAA Division II All-America selection and two-time ECAC Central Player of the Year. He also landed ECAC Central Rookie of the Year honors in 1994-95. Gurskis was inducted into the Saint Michael’s Athletic Hall of Fame in 2005.
“John was one of a number of top performers over the early years of the program,” said former head coach Lou DiMasi, who guided the Purple Knights from 1982-83 to 2006-07, the first 25 years of their modern era. “He was a great player, a true scorer who had the uncanny ability to find the open man on the ice. John was a true winner, and was respected by his teammates, peers, faculty and staff.” DiMasi noted that Gurskis was recruited by long-time assistant coach Steve Mattson, and that he joined Michel Dupont ‘98 and Jay Rourke ‘98 to create a formidable top line; the trio totaled a remarkable 515 points in the three seasons they partnered, netting 225 goals and 290 assists.
Gurskis continues to hold school records for career points (234), assists (141) and game-winning goals (11) while standing second in goals (93) to only Dupont (97). His 82 points and 48 assists in 1997-98 remain program standards, as he owns three of the top six point totals and three of the highest eight helper figures in school annals. Gurskis’ 34 goals as a senior are second to Dupont’s 42 tallies from the same season. Following his time in Purple and Gold, the Brockton, Mass., native played 10 years of professional ice hockey, including serving his final four seasons as a player-assistant coach. He was a coach and general manager with the South Shore (Mass.) Kings junior program for 11 years before joining the minor league Wichita (Kan.) Thunder of the ECHL as an assistant coach in 2019-20.
“From the minute I moved to Vermont in 1997, John Gurskis was a name you just kept hearing about,” said DiGiulian, who is in his eighth year as head coach at Saint Michael’s. “And even though I was coaching at the University of Vermont, many people, and I think rightly so, considered John to be one of the best college players to ever play in this state at any level. After taking the job here at Saint Mike’s and really delving into the history of the program, it was clear to me as to why that was. Luckily, I got to know John through his job as a coach in junior hockey. I can speak from experience that he is a better person than he was a player, and that is saying a lot.”