The career of New Hampshire forward Patrick Grasso is one that resembles a roller coaster.
After a freshman season in which he scored 20 goals and 33 points, earning him a spot on the Hockey East all-rookie team, few knew that Grasso had reached the first peak in his roller coaster career.
A season later, before reaching the midway point, Grasso’s season was over due to a shoulder injury that required surgery.
Though last season he returned by opening night, another significant injury kept him from playing a game after Feb. 9.
Two seasons, two season-ending injuries.
This offseason, he was granted a medical redshirt by the NCAA, which will allow him an additional season after this year is complete.
Now, as a redshirt junior and (knock on wood) healthy, Grasso’s impact is again being felt by a Wildcats team that has some ground to make up in Hockey East but also feels like it is also playing some of its better hockey this season.
“All in all, I think we’re playing pretty solid hockey,” said UNH coach Michael Souza. “For the first time all year, on Saturday night, we had our full roster together that we thought we’d have preseason.”
For Grasso, in particular, he has scored goals in five straight games, something he didn’t even accomplish in his 20-goal rookie season.
“Goal scorers are streaky,” said Souza. “He’s just a small cerebral [type of player] who knows where to be. He’s not going to beat anyone with his speed. He beats you with his mind. When things are going well, he’s got a great release. If we get him around the net, he’s pretty effective.”
Despite a difficult road at New Hampshire, Souza has nothing but praise for his, who this year wears the ‘A’ on his jersey. His coach describes him as passionate and truly describes a player that, despite many challenges, including his 5-foot-7 frame, is still among the top hockey minds in today’s college game.
“He’s a model student athlete,” said Souza. “He’s a great student and he loves hockey. He’s at the rink all the time, and as a coach we all love that.
“He’s a quieter guy. He wears a letter on his shirt, but he’s the kind of guy who leads by example. He lives the right way. Everything about him and the way he carries himself. He’s got a personality as someone guys respect.”
The story for Grasso this season mirrors that of the whole team. Souza calls Grasso and player who probably wants to have a few more goals (he currently is second on the team with seven).
The Wildcats offense of late has been strong, scoring four or more goals in each of the last four games. But the team went through a thin stretch where it scored two-or-less goals in seven of 11 games. If there was a silver lining, in that same 11-game stretch, UNH’s record didn’t suffer too much, going 5-6-0.
“We’ve scored some goals as of late,” said Souza. “Hopefully, that’s a good sign.
“We understand the stakes get higher and the competition level increases but by the sheer fact that it’s all Hockey East games from here on out. Every game is like a playoff game, now. I love that.”
Parker Ford, worldwide traveler
Providence rookie Parker Ford has been impressive on the ice for the Friars this season, registering seven goals and 15 points in 18 games thus far.
Some of his most impressive work of late, though, came last weekend off the ice as he scrambled to get back with his team after representing the United States at the World Junior Championship.
Team USA was eliminated on Thursday in a game that was played early evening in the Czech Republic. Ford wasted little time trying to meet his team in Las Vegas, where the Friars were taking on Army West Point on Friday evening.
There was no way that Providence coach Nate Leaman was inserting Ford in the lineup on Friday. In fact, the rookie landed in Las Vegas and arrived at the arena after puck drop. But Leaman felt on Friday that Saturday was a possibility, as Providence took on Cornell in the title game at 5 p.m. local time.
“His flight was like 12 hours,” said Leaman of Ford’s travel. “He didn’t even want to go to bed. He wanted to see his teammates [on Friday]. The coaches kept pushing him to go to bed.
“He got in on Friday at 6 [p.m. local time]. Then they lost his sticks so he had to wait at the airport. He got to our team meal around 7:30. Then he came over to watch the Ohio State-Cornell game. That’s when the coaches were tell him to go to bed.”
Leaman said that he liked how Ford looked on Saturday morning, noting that he had good color in his face. And his decision to insert him into the lineup paid off as Ford scored the second goal in a 2-2 tie before Providence took home the tournament title in a shootout on Jack Dugan’s goal.
“He was 15 and 4 at the [faceoff] dot, so we start our shifts with the puck, which helps a lot,” said Leaman. “Then he comes up with a big goal. It was a laser. And he made a couple of other big plays throughout the game.
“We’re just so happy to have him as part of the program. He’s a warrior.”
Hockey East and the Pairwise
Yes, it is only January, but right now there is a very positive PairWise trend for Hockey East teams.
Prior to Wednesday night’s Boston University-Brown game, five teams from Hockey East rank in the top 12 of the PairWise. Boston College, Massachusetts, Northeastern, UMass Lowell and Providence would all qualify for the NCAA tournament if the season ended today.
That’s the good news.
There is always another side to the story and that is the fact that none of those teams are in the top four of the PairWise (BC is closest at No. 5), which means no team from Hockey East would be a No. 1 seed in the tournament.
Why do we worry about that? Well, the best way to control your location besides being a host of an NCAA regional is to move into the top four positions in the PairWise.
This year, the four regional host sites are Worcester, Mass., Albany, N.Y., Allentown, Penn., and Loveland, Colo.
And while things are complicated in terms on which team plays in which region, right now not having any teams in the top four means that a team as high as Boston College could still end up in Loveland, Colo., something that would be quite a disappointment for Eagles fans.
There is a lot of hockey to play and many things that need to sort themselves out. But fingers crossed Hockey East teams remain solid enough to place four, five or maybe even six teams into the NCAA field.