From humble beginnings: Michigan Tech’s Mark Auk has come a long way from playing hockey in his backyard
HOUGHTON — Mark Auk cried the first time he set his skates down on the ice for an organized hockey game. He was 4-years-old and didn’t know what to expect from playing against kids who were almost twice his age. After all, he was used to playing on friendlier terms, with his older sister Sarah on a pond behind his house in St. Clair Shores, Michigan.
But it didn’t take long for a natural hockey player to emerge, and when the game was over, Auk cried again, this time because he didn’t want to stop playing.
His dad remembers that as the moment he knew that Auk would always love the game.
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When Auk was born, he was christened MarkEvan Anthony-Gerard Auk, after his father, Mark Anthony-Gerard Auk, but with a twist.
His mother Cheryl wanted something a little different. She added Evan so her son could have his own identity.
The father and son share similarities in their work ethics and personalities. Both are hard-working and warm, with a goofy side.
But as Auk grew up, standing out from his father wasn’t a problem.
“It never worked out that people referred to Mark as my son, I was always “Mark’s dad,” his father said. “He got more of the credit, which he absolutely deserves.”
And when it comes to hockey, there is no comparing the two.
“I skated for probably one year of my life and he was way better than me when he was three months old,” the older Auk said with a laugh.
Creating his own identity was easy, but learning to spell MarkEvan Anthony-Gerard Auk? Really, really difficult.
“They didn’t make it easy on me in kindergarten for spelling my full name. I mean, I still get it wrong,” he joked.
Auk has always been quick with a witty remark. According to teammate Jake Lucchini, his sense of humor is a staple in the Michigan Tech locker room, and the senior has a funny comment for almost every situation.
Lucchini struggles to try to describe Auk’s sense of humor; at first calling him the team clown, before correcting himself. Because as funny as Auk is off the ice and in the locker room, he is anything but a clown come game time.
His intensity is something that has been brewing for a long time, and now the senior has found a balance between being the funny guy and being a leader on the ice.
“Over the years, he has found a more serious way to have the same sense of humor,” head coach Joe Shawhan said. “But he still brightens up the people around him. When he is not around you, you sure notice it.”
When he’s on the ice, Auk is a quiet leader, showing rather than telling and leading by example. He is an offensive defenseman that prides himself in being able to attack and handle the puck. The kind of player who coaches have said: could stick handle in a phone booth.”
Auk is currently third in the nation in points by a defenseman, with nine points on two goals and seven assists. His offensive skills will always be there, he says, but now Auk is trying to focus on stepping up defensively to fill a void that was left when Matt Roy, Cliff Watson and Shane Hanna graduated.
“Those three did a lot for this team and our culture with the way they carried themselves,” Auk said. “They helped us when we were young and tried to mold us into well-rounded hockey players.”
Being a leader is key for Auk, not only on this team but for the future. He hopes to be a coach when he’s done playing, and it’s easy to see him doing so. When Auk speaks, he sounds like a coach, relaying thoughtful advice, that though cliche, doesn’t lack truth.
“One of the most important things I would pass on is to try and get better at something every single day, because if you’re not getting better, you are in turn, just getting worse,” he said.
Coach speak is part of Auk’s serious side, but he has layers, and one of those is full of superstitions.
Auk said he can’t list all of his pregame rituals because he has “about 300.”
Before each game, he gets dressed the same way. He puts on his left skate first, then his right. His left elbow pad first, then his right, and so on, with every article of clothing. Auk can’t remember why he started the routine, and he admits that it’s kind of silly, but he has to do it anyway.
In actuality, Auk comes by his superstitious ways quite honestly. They may have been passed down from his father.
“If I wear certain clothes and the team plays really well then I will wear that until they don’t,” his dad said. “We have got a lot of that going on in our house. We are trying to make sure we don’t cause them to lose a game.”
His father, mother and aunt come to as many games as possible, no matter how far they have to drive — it’s about ten hours on the road from their home in Grosse Point to Houghton.
That’s a good thing for Auk because sometimes he needs an assist when it comes to upholding his superstitious routines.
Sometime last season Auk started eating a bite of a Snickers bar before every period. It began as a way to give him a quick energy boost but ended up becoming part of his ritual. When Tech went on the road to play in the Ice Breaker Tournament at Minnesota-Duluth earlier this season, Auk found himself without his signature candy bar, so his dad rushed to the concession stand.
“I was like $3.50 for the bar, and I thought, is this worth it?” his father said with a laugh.
It may have been. Auk scored two goals and recorded an assist in the two-game tournament.
“After that, I got a box of 40 from Costco,” his dad said. “That ought to get him through for a while.”
The intense funny guy isn’t without his quirks, but underneath the Snickers bars and unlimited jokes is that same 4-year-old from St. Clair Shores who fell in love with hockey. He’s just a little older, a little more of a leader and no longer in danger of crying on the ice.