Hockey players will eagerly go the extra mile to get ahead.
In Todd Graham’s case, those miles have often come about 10,000 at a time while wedged for hours and hours in the seat of an airplane.
Then again, when you’re large, Australian, and itching to play hockey, you’ll range as far afield as you have to to get yourself in the game.
Which these days is what has him playing at Buffalo State, where Graham, a 6-foot-5-inch, 230-pound freshman, is an intimidating force on the Bengal blue line.
“(Using my size) is a big part of the game,” said Graham. “You go for a hit then take yourself out of the play. So you’ve got to read the situation and play it accordingly. You try to stay between the dots and protect the house in the middle of the rink. The areas where I try to hit are in the corner. That’s where I get guys. They might be faster, but I’ll get them eventually.”
Eventually. That’s how Graham gradually went from a being Melbourne newborn to giant-sized Bengal.
He moved with his family to Minneapolis, where his father worked for a computer company, and where he first learned how to skate. When Graham was six, he moved back to Australia and took up roller hockey, which he played until switching back to ice at age 13.
He soon began turning heads among the sizable ex-pat Canadian community, and by age 15, already larger than most adults, Graham began to practice regularly with Melbourne Ice of the semi-pro AIHL.
“When I started training with them, that really elevated my game,” said Graham. “With little things on the ice, and especially off the ice. They really helped me carry myself and take care of my body.”
Still, Graham hadn’t given much thought to any serious hockey pursuit until veteran Ice player Mike Mazzuca, who played Canadian major junior (OHL), planted the seed in his mind.
“He said, ‘Look, I think you’ve got a good shot at overseas.’ So he talked to my parents, and we decided that we were going to go for it.”
That’s when the journey commenced in earnest.
To Florida (Junior Panthers), to Vermont, to California (Valencia Flyers), to Connecticut (Jr. WolfPack), with a return trip home to Oz after every season.
Oh, and there was his stint with the Aussie U-18s that netted him a Romanian stamp for his increasingly cluttered passport.
“I’m pretty grateful for my journeys,” Graham said.
It was during his two years with the WolfPack that Graham caught the eye of Buffalo State coach Nick Carriere, whose close relationship with Pack coach Chris Cerrella had over the years netted the Bengals several recruits.
“I knew a bunch of them,” said Graham, who is majoring in business management. “And the style of play from Hartford to here is a lot the same. Grinding, hitting, chipping pucks out. Coach Cerrella was pushing for me to come here, and Coach Carriere was looking for defensemen. So this and business school. You can’t get this in Australia.”
At least not without going the extra miles. Every one of them.
NOTES: Last weekend’s SUNYAC play produced some verrrrrrrrry interesting results, particularly during No. 1 Oswego’s two-game road swing that netted the Lakers wins at Brockport and Geneseo. Saturday’s news flash wasn’t that Oswego won 10-1, but that the Lakers called on 10 different scorers to do it. It was a show of balanced scoring that even Oswego coach Ed Gosek had never seen before.
“(I’ve) had four or five different players,” he said, “but never that many. Nice to have balance, when so called big guns have off games, others are there. Believe it or not, our main concern is playing sound defense, not offense.”
Gosek added that allowing just one goal over the team’s last three games is “more important to us than the 21 we have scored.” …
Watching that onslaught from the opposing bench was Geneseo coach Chris Schultz, who said the rout was all but forgotten before the next sunrise.
“Dwelling,” Schultz said, “that word is not in our vocabulary. We have already moved on and we know where our focus has to be. As embarrassing as it was, we can put it in our back pocket and use it as motivation for the next time around.”
Then there was the fate suffered by still-winless Morrisville, which suffered a pair of one-goal losses at Buffalo State (3-2) and Fredonia (2-1 in overtime). Mustangs’ interim coach Kevin Krogol said that the twin heartbreakers can have a positive impact on his young team.
“Our boys remain optimistic and haven’t gotten down,” Krogol said. “I think they see that we are a very young team and that we are continuing to improve week by week and game by game. We made a few young mistakes this weekend that cost us.”