Salve Success: Johnny Mulera ’24, Mitch Walinski ’23 earn silver medals at FISU World University Games
Johnny Mulera ’24, a major in business administration, and Mitch Walinski ’23, a criminal justice major, have a lot in common. They both were transfer students to Salve Regina, they are hockey players, and they had the honor of competing on the U.S. men’s ice hockey team for the 2023 International University Sports Federation (FISU) World University Games in Lake Placid, New York, in Jan. 2023.
While at the FISU World University Games, the two helped the U.S. win its first ever silver medal in hockey. The U.S. hasn’t medalled since the 1972 edition of the games, when they won a bronze medal.
From the transfer portal to the ice
After his first semester at another school, Walinkski decided to find a better fit. Once in the transfer portal for ice hockey, Walinksi was able to talk to coaches — and Zech Klann, Salve Regina’s head coach of men’s ice hockey, was one of the first to reach out.
“It seemed like he really cared about me, and that was something I looked for in a coach,” explained Walinski. “I wanted a coach who cared for their players and checked in on how they were doing.”
Walinksi knew the ice hockey program at Salve Regina had a good reputation, and he had friends who played here. It just felt like it was the right decision.
Mulera also had a great experience when Klann reached out to him. He noted that Klann stayed in constant touch with Mulera throughout the transfer process, making the transfer less stressful and giving him confidence that he was making the right choice.
“When I came during my visit, I really liked the school,” described Mulera. “It’s a great program that has allowed me to develop on and off the ice.”
The road to FISU World University Games
The FISU World University Games is a collegiate multi-sports winter tournament that brings university teams from across the world together to compete.
Around Thanksgiving in 2022, Klann called both Walinksi and Mulera to tell them that they were on a list to possibly be a part of the U.S. men’s ice hockey team. The coaches were picking all 23 men from the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s Division III teams.
The final call came in early December 2022, and Walinski and Mulera were stoked to go.
The Salve Regina men’s ice hockey team had a game versus Curry College on a Saturday night, and early the next morning Walinksi and Mulera drove to practice for the U.S. team.
Walinski and Mulera describe the FISU World University Games as the best hockey experience in their careers thus far.
“Lake Placid was such a cool experience given its hockey history,” explained Walinski. “Being able to play in front of 8,000 people at the Miracle Rink is something I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”
The U.S. team played seven games with a 5-2 record, and they received a silver medal.
“I never expected to be able to wear the USA jersey,” explained Mulera. “To be able to do that was really special, and it’s something I will never forget.”
New lifetime friendships and memories
The students spent two weeks total at the games practicing, competing, and meeting other players from around the world. Walinski and Mulera enjoyed hearing stories from other college hockey players and learning about their experiences.
“After playing hockey with each other and being together all day, we learned a lot about each other,” explained Walinski.
The U.S. team grew from watching the National Football Championships the second night — where no one would talk — to becoming close friends who bonded and earned silver medals.
Walinksi and Mulera also described getting close with Japan and Korea’s teams. They found themselves playing cards, ping pong and Jenga with them every night by the end of the trip.
“I created great friendships that will last forever,” said Mulera.
Looking towards their futures post-graduation, Walinski and Mulera hope to take hockey as far as they can go. Both want to pursue a future in hockey and would love to play in a professional league.
Article written by student writer Morgan Rizzo ’23
Salve Success is a series of student success stories periodically featured on SALVEtoday. Check out the tag Salve Success for more stories.
Featured photo is of Walinski (center) celebrating during the FISU World University Games.