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TRIPLE THREAT

Drive, smarts and athleticism has allowed Zach Giuttari to excel playing two sports - and in the classroom - at an Ivy League university

by RYAN DITTRICK @ryandittrick / CalgaryFlames.com

He'd all but retired, flipping his attention - fully - to his true love, on the ice.

"Turns out," laughed 23-year-old Zach Giuttari, who's in Calgary on an invite to Flames Development Camp, "I couldn't stay away."

Lacrosse was in his blood. 

Imagine …

To excel in any form of high-level sport, you need to be one of the most gifted players anywhere in your age group.

Two sports?

Twice the impossible.

Giuttari is in his third year as a defenceman on the Ivy-League outfit at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. 

He's also only one year removed from playing at the same level on the university lacrosse entry, captaining the team in 2018 and earning all sorts of accolades, all-star honours, and coaching awards for his outstanding performance in back-to-back campaigns.

Truly, a serendipitous journey.

"I played lacrosse my whole life, so I wasn't new to the sport or anything, but it wasn't something I was looking to pursue as a career," Giuttari said. "We were hanging out in the dorm one day, and my roommate - who played on the (lacrosse) team - tried to convince me to try out.

"Him and one other guy on our floor kept at it: 'Come on, it'll be fun! It's a great program and they set you up with all the equipment. Give it a shot, man.'

"I thought, 'Sure, why not?' 

"So, I walked on and the coach said he would love to have me. I wasn't the most skilled guy out there, but I tried to use that work ethic I learned in hockey to battle for every ground ball and make the most of the opportunity."

For two years, Giuttari survived a 30-plus game hockey season, a weekly lacrosse campaign, and a full college course load that still includes a double-major in engineering and economics. 

He arrived on scene with a gift.

Brains, brawn - the whole nine befitting of the Ivy-Leaguer he now was.

 

 

But even among that esteemed class of athletic competitors and academic aces, it soon become clear Giuttari was no ordinary scholar. 

"He's the hardest-working kid I've ever met," said James Marcou, a former pro and now assistant coach and defensive specialist with the illustrious NCAA squad. "And I mean ever. 

"In everything he does. 

"It's nice to have your best player have those hard-working tendencies and characteristics about him. He's a leader for us, and that's what's going to make him a leader on whatever team he plays for many years to come."

Giuttari lauds Marcou and how he's helped him develop on the blueline. 

But the feeling is mutual. 

Reciprocal. 

Marcou adding that Giuttari's relentless work ethic is where the credit lies. 

Today, the 6-foot-2, 190-lb. blueliner has an identity to his game, which both agree lacked in previous years. Instead of a pass-first, dump-it-off-type guy, he's now a transporter, using his feet to follow up on a play or join the rush outright to make offence a priority.   

Giuttari put up a career high 20 points (7G, 13A) in 34 games last year, and is poised to better that as he returns for his senior year this fall.

"Once he discovered his identity as a player this year - and he really took a step forward this year - he really found a way to play to his strengths and dominate the game," Marcou said.

"He's an elite skater and his hockey sense is very good. Honestly, I don't see too many holes in his game. 

"He puts his head down and goes to work every day. His attitude and effort are outstanding and I think that carries through in everything he does."

Clearly. 

Giuttari, now 23, is keeping an eye out for what's next after his career at Brown comes to an end next year.

He's hoping a camp like this will turn heads enough for the organization to consider a pro contract. 

He also knows that nothing is a given, having participated in a similar camp last year with the Columbus Blue Jackets, and leaving unsatisfied. 

For now, Brown is his priority. Always has been, no matter what sport (or class) he was involved in.

"I love it," the right-shooting rearguard said of the hectic, full-time schedule. "I got into a routine: Recover, eat, homework, crash and be ready for your 9 a.m. class the next day. Fun, right? Eventually, adding lacrosse made it a bit too challenging, and at some point, I needed to put my full attention back on hockey. 

"I'm so glad I did it, though. Growing up playing both, and continuing to do that deep into my key development years, I saw how important it was to be a multi-sport athlete. 

"Being on the ice 24/7, 365 days a year doesn't help. 

"Physically and mentally."

The turf-based off-season provided more of a cardio workout than he was used to at that level, but the mechanics of the sport and how it worked different muscle groups proved beneficial to his immediate development as an elite athlete, as well - he hopes - to his longevity in high-level competition.

"Over-skating kills your hips and you'll see groin injuries pop up over the course of your career," Giuttari said. "Getting off the ice, even for a month or two, is hugely important for your health and your long-term durability.

"It helps reset your body.

"Then, of course, when you mix in different sports, you get to work on different skills, like your hand-eye. It really develops different parts of your body. Everything you learn there, you can apply it to hockey when you take to the ice again in September.

"It's a win-win."

For player and team. 

Wherever the game(s) takes him next.

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