Friday, July 02, 2010

Mahalak gives back at Canton library

Watch Plymouth Whalers left wing RJ Mahalak on the ice and you see a gritty forward who plays with passion, intelligence, and a certain edge. He’s not shy about taking hits and giving it back.

Mahalak shows a far different side in the library.

Mahalak was the featured reader in the Canton Public Library’s first session during their annual Summer Reading Program. Mahalak held the attention of about 45 children of all ages throughout the hour-long session - not an easy task for a group with tons of energy.

“The goal of this program is to get kids to read and to make the experience fun,” said Kristen Kostielney, Canton Public Library’s Children’s and Tween Services Program Coordinator. “Today with our first program of the summer and with RJ around, it’s been a great experience for everyone.”

As big as Mahalak is, he shows a kinder, gentler side in the library and the children responded.

“I love coming to the library and hanging out with the kids,” he said. “They’re here during the summer and don’t have anything else to do other than playing sports. Their parents would like to get them into the library, so I like to come here and read them a couple of stories.”

On Monday, Mahalak started reading one of the literary staples whenever the Whalers are involved with children, patiently reading Matt Napier’s “Z is for Zamboni – A Hockey Alphabet.”

In the book, each letter of the alphabet is represented in hockey terms:

“A is for Arena. The game is played in here, a building where the fans all gather to clap and boo and cheer…

“B is for two Bobbys, with the last names of Hull and Orr. Both were skillful players who could truly skate and score…

“C is for the Coach as well as for the Captain. They are respected leaders who can really make things happen….”

Mahalak continued through the book, pausing from time to time to show the children the pictures in the book.

“RJ does a great job,” Kostielney said with a smile. “He’s amazing. I was so excited for him to come in. He’s everyone’s favorite. He’s able to relate to their level at all ages, from as young as two-years-old to as old as 13. I think the older kids relate to him at different stages of their lives.”

Indeed, after reading “Z is for Zamboni,” Mahalak took questions from his crowd. When there wasn’t much response, Mahalak asked his audience questions and told his story about how he got started in hockey.

“When I was about four, I didn’t want to play hockey,” he said. “But if I didn’t play, my parents weren't going to take me to Disney World, so you could say I was bribed to play.”

Although it wasn’t technically part of the program, Mahalak read two more books, enlisting the help of seven-year-old William Cochron of Canton. Mahalak and his young friend read “A Pocket for Corduroy.”

Mahalak comes from a family who believes in education. RJ’s brother, Matt (who will join the Whalers this season) was a co-recipient of the United States Hockey League’s Scholar-Athlete Award while playing for the Youngstown Phantoms.

“In Monroe, I’ve been going to these programs since I was a little kid,” Mahalak said. “I can relate to the kids. You have to keep it (the pace of the program) going. It’s a fun time.”

Lucas and Nora Galante (ages three and five) of Canton had so much fun, they presented Mahalak with a present – two hand-drawn pictures, carefully drawn in crayon.

“Thanks, ‘King’ Lucas,” Mahalak said to Lucas, who was wearing a crown. “These pictures will go in my locker.”

Expect Mahalak to be back on the reading forecheck at the Canton Public Library’s Summer Reading Program, which is going on through August.

"RJ absolutely loves the library appearances," said Natalie Shaver, Sales and Marketing Administrator for the Whalers who is in charge of all the Whalers appearances. "Last summer I was rotating guys throughout the summer, but after RJ attended the library for the first time, he went back every time. This summer, he actually checked to make sure we had the library appearances scheduled and told me he'd do them all. After the first appearance, he sent me a text and asked if he could make it a weekly thing, so we added some more appearances at the library just for him.

"I know education and getting kids involved in reading is a big thing to him, so he takes pride in an event like this. I know it has a big impact on the kids too."

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