HbD Interviews: Zach Aston-Reese

By Ally Koss
In Ally Koss
Jan 29th, 2020

As we’ve seen in recent years, college hockey has become an increasingly popular route to the NHL, with many elite players choosing the NCAA path to develop while continuing their education. Current stars and household names like Jonathan Toews (North Dakota), Phil Kessel (Minnesota), Jack Eichel (BU) and Ben Bishop (Maine) all played college hockey, with the list of successful NCAA-to-NHL stories growing every year.

According to College Hockey Inc., last season, a record 325 former college players played in the NHL, accounting for over a third of the league – a sizable increase from 20% just twenty years ago.

With the heavy practice and travel demands of playing a division 1 sport at a top university, it’s not uncommon for student athletes to choose majors that allow them the flexibility to watch lectures online or keep up with work outside of class hours, but alright, you know we’re a design blog, so we’re not here to talk about which of your favorite players sat through Accounting 101 or Intro to Finance in their college days.

Aston-Reese at Northeastern (left) and the 2017 Hobey Baker ceremony (right)

If you follow college hockey, you’re likely familiar with Penguins winger Zach Aston-Reese’s work on the ice at Northeastern University, where he played four years prior to signing as a free agent with Pittsburgh in 2017. In his senior season, Aston-Reese was named Hockey East player of the year, led the nation in scoring with 31 goals and 32 assists in 38 games, and was a top-3 finalist for the Hobey Baker award, given to the best player in all of college hockey. Phew.

Off the ice, Aston-Reese’s college career took a more unusual route, perhaps the lesser known story, opting not for public relations or criminal justice lectures, but rather spending most of his class time in the computer labs of the Art & Design building. Pens Inside Scoop did a spotlight on Aston-Reese’s creative talents last spring where Zach spoke of his college capstone project, researching and designing a book on the history of the NHL (something we find quite interesting ourselves!).

Likely the only NHL player ever (or at least currently) to hold a BFA in Graphic Design, Zach was kind enough to tell us a little bit about what inspired him to pursue design, plus his excellent picks for best NHL jersey and logo, because, well, that’s what we do here.

Interview has been edited for clarity.

What first got you interested in design?

When I went to middle school, our school had a magnet program, so you’d pick whether you’re in band, drama, art or journalism, and I picked art, so it started pretty early on…like, 6th grade. But beyond that, my mom is a pretty good artist and works in design every day. She does embroidery and owns her own business, so it was a combination of those two things.

What was it like juggling studio classes and coursework with the travel and practice schedule of being a D1 hockey player?

It was definitely tough, but I was fortunate enough that all my teachers were pretty understanding. They were excited for me as long as I got my work done. It was actually kind of beneficial, because [design] classes meet once a week for four hours, so it was usually a night class after practice, or early morning, and then I didn’t have anything the rest of the day, so my days weren’t too stressful. I’d have a couple days off and only three days [a week] with classes.

What would be your dream design job if you weren’t playing hockey?

It’d be really fun to make advertisements, whether it be print or billboards or posters out in public displays.

Hartford Whalers logo sketches by Peter Good

What is your favorite NHL logo, past or present?

It’d have to be the Hartford Whalers. I remember one of my teachers brought up how cool of a design it was, and I didn’t realize the typographic elements that went into the design of it.

What is your favorite NHL jersey, past or present?

I’m trying to think… [laughs]. I kind of like the Penguins baby blue ones. It’s a cool logo, and I like that color of blue.

Do you have any plans or hopes to keep designing as you continue your professional hockey career?

We’ll see… there will always be opportunities for design jobs. Design covers a whole broad spectrum, whether it’s coding or design, so there’s lots of opportunity. I’ll definitely have to go back to school for a little bit if I ever enter that field, but it’s definitely something that’s on my radar for when hockey’s done.

Via Penguins.NHL.com, Aston-Reese with the Icetime game program cover he designed

To read more about Zach’s design background and how he’s putting his talents to use while playing for the Penguins, check out the team’s feature on his work creating last season’s St. Patrick’s Day game program cover.

(And yeah, he’s apparently the go-to guy in the locker room for all logo-related questions)

And a huge thanks to Zach for taking the time to answer our questions!

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