Most adolescent boys are consumed by video games, TV show schedules and junk food, not yet responsible enough to manage their laundry and hygiene, let alone fend for themselves on a daily basis.
But for Ohio State forward Anthony Greco, his pursuit of a hockey dream was just beginning at 12 years old when he decided to move away from the comforts of home in Queens, N.Y., and attend one of the nation’s most elite hockey schools in the country, Shattuck-St. Mary’s in Faribault, Minnesota.
“I went on a visit and ended up getting into the school,” Greco said. “I went and lived in the dorms with two guys I actually knew from New York and it was definitely an adjustment. I think at the time at the age I was that I thought I was mature and old enough to go off on my own and didn’t really understand why my mom was so upset when she saw me leave. It was definitely a learning experience.”
At SSM, Greco faced a rigorous seven-month schedule playing between 50-75 games per season and often skating seven days a week. The school has groomed the likes of Jonathan Toews, Sidney Crosby and Nathan MacKinnon but for the undersized, pre-teen Greco who was barely 5-foot tall and 100 pounds, the pressures were overwhelming at times.
“It was just being away from my family and not getting to go home and have mom’s meals and see dad and talk to dad about hockey,” he said. “It was basically one phone call every day. The transition was easier because I was around some guys I knew. I had two really good roommates. But a bad game was the end of the world at that age, there’s no one to bounce it off of because you’re trying to figure things out on your own. It took me a pretty long time to mature and I think it’s still a process that I’m working at.”
Now a third-year forward for the Buckeyes and still somewhat undersized (5-foot-10 and 171 pounds), Greco has developed into a lethal goal scorer and is off to the strongest start to a season in his career. With nine goals, Greco leads Ohio State and surpassed his previous career high of five goals from a season ago. He has become a difference maker in Columbus, having recorded the game-winning goal in three of the team’s seven wins this season including an overtime goal in last Friday’s 5-4 win against Penn State.
After spending nearly half of his life pursuing an opportunity to play at the next level, Greco finds himself on the cusp of making the dream a reality thanks to his clutch play and timely goal scoring. Fueled by the support of his family, Greco is motivated to fulfill his aspirations of playing professional hockey whether it is in the NHL or in Europe.
“That’s the reason why I’m playing,” Greco said. “To make it as far as I can for them and for all the sacrifices that they have made and my brothers have made and that’s a motivating factor for me aside from actually loving the game and wanting to make it for myself. In the end, I want it to be worth it for everyone who had a part in it.”
Sacrifices may be putting it lightly as his mom, Mary Jane, at one point moved to Minnesota to support her son and his dream, while his father, Paul, remained in New York City working as a fire fighter. Then, just as Paul retired from the fire department and joined his family in Minnesota, Mary Jane landed a position as a registered nurse back in New York. Torn between their own professions and their child’s dreams, the Grecos were reduced to a few holiday breaks and summer vacations to enjoy family time together.
“My parents are the hardest working people I know,” Greco said. “To sacrifice not being with each other for this long and not getting to see each other as much as some other families, I want to do everything I can to make them know that it was worth it and I’ve appreciated it the whole way.”
No. 19 MICHIGAN (4-1-0, 12-7-0)
OVERVIEW: Winners of four in a row — and eight of the last nine — after sweeping the ninth-ranked Minnesota last weekend. The Wolverines used one of the nation’s strongest offensive attacks — averaging the second most goals at 3.84 per game — to overpower the higher ranked Gophers. With seven different players recording multiple points in Saturday night’s 7-5 win, coach Red Berenson became the fourth coach in college hockey history to record 800 career wins joining Jack Parker (897), Ron Mason (924) and Jerry York (975). Michigan will play just one game this weekend against rival Ohio State; the second of four scheduled meetings between the two. The Wolverines won the first meeting 8-3 with the help of three power-play goals on the Buckeyes’ PK unit that ranks fifth out of six Big Ten teams at 78.3 percent.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Sophomore defenseman Michael Downing recorded a career-high three points in the 7-5 win over the Gophers. Michigan defensemen have combined for 12 goals in 19 games this season after the group combined for just eight goals in 35 games in 2013-14. With four goals and 12 points, the native of Canton, Mich., joins fellow Wolverines Zach Werenski (13), Cutler Martin (9) and Kevin Lohan (9) ranked among the top six conference defensemen in scoring. A fourth-round pick of the Florida Panthers in 2013, Downing has recorded one goal and four assists in the last four games and has assisted on four of the last seven game-winning goals.
THIS WEEKEND: at Ohio State, Jan. 16.
MICHIGAN STATE (1-2-1, 7-10-1)
OVERVIEW: The Spartans will be rearing to go in the weekend’s two-game series at Happy Valley after playing just one game in the previous 17 days. The one game, however, could prove to be a nice building block for the Spartans as they defeated the U.S. National Development Team 4-1 in an exhibition game last Friday. Goalies Jake Hildebrand and Ed Minney combined to pitch a near-perfect shutout until the USNDTP scored with 1:05 left in regulation. The Spartans will close out the season with 16 consecutive Big Ten games, starting this weekend. With a 4-1-1 record all-time against the Nittany Lions, Michigan State hasn’t lost to Penn State since a 3-2 decision on Jan. 26, 2013 — Penn State’s inaugural season.
PLAYER TO WATCH: For a second straight year, Hildebrand has been named to the Mike Richter Award watch list as one of 20 goalies eligible to earn the honors as most outstanding goaltender in Division I college hockey. Having started in 18 games for the Spartans this season after appearing in 32-of-36 games in 2013-14, Hildebrand played just one period last weekend against the USNDTP. However, the contest was an exhibition and the 5-foot-11 junior from Butler, Pennsylvanis., is expected to carry the torch for the Spartans down the stretch. Hildebrand’s shutout against Ferris State in the Great Lakes Invitational was the fifth of his career and also the fifth time this season he has turned away 30 or more shots in a game.
THIS WEEKEND: at Penn State, Jan. 16-17.
No. 16 MINNESOTA (1-2-1, 10-7-1)
OVERVIEW: Things are snowballing for the Gophers as they are just 3-6-1 in the last 10 games and falling fast in the polls. Ranked number one in the country in the USCHO.com Poll in early November, Minnesota has plummeted to 16th in two months of hockey. Senior goalie Adam Wilcox gave up four goals on Friday night and then was run out of the net after allowing five goals on 11 shots through the first 25 minutes of play on Saturday. Minnesota can right the ship with a favorable series matchup against the Badgers this weekend. Special teams will be the difference as the Gophers boast the nation’s most efficient power play (converting on 20-of-67 opportunities) and will look to exploit one of the worst penalty killing units in the country as Wisconsin kills off just 71.4 percent of shorthanded opportunities.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Don’t call it a sophomore slump for the 21-year-old Justin Kloos. Through 17 games, Kloos scored a team-high 16 goals and 32 points in 41 games as a freshman and has followed it up with eight goals and 17 points through 18 games this season. However, the 5-foot-9 forward from Lakeville, Minn., has gone cold as of late, with just one goal in the team’s last four games. If the Gophers plan on getting back to its winning ways, so must Kloos as Minnesota is 25-4-4 in two seasons when he records a point.
THIS WEEKEND: vs. Wisconsin, Jan. 16-17.
OHIO STATE (2-3-0, 7-10-2)
OVERVIEW: The Buckeyes were lucky to leave Happy Valley with a 1-1 series split after blowing a 4-0 lead to Penn State in the third period of last Friday’s game. Anthony Greco’s goal with 46 seconds left in overtime won it 5-4 for the Buckeyes. Dropping the following night’s rematch 4-1 has been a reoccurring trend for an Ohio State team that has yet to win consecutive games at any point through 19 games this season. With one of the nation’s most proficient offensive attacks coming to Columbus this weekend, Ohio State will have to do a much better job in closing out games to come away with a win over Michigan. The Buckeyes’ will play the Wolverines from the friendly confines of the Schottenstein Center, the team’s first home game since Nov. 28 against Western Michigan.
PLAYER TO WATCH: With an assist on the Buckeyes’ lone goal in the 4-1 loss to Penn State, freshman Christian Lampasso kept his point streak alive, extending it to six games. This came after the Amherst, N.Y., native posted a career-high three points — including his first career goal for the Buckeyes — in the previous night’s 5-4 overtime win. Lampasso is tied for fourth on the team with 11 points and continues to increase his workload after being held scoreless in his first six games of the season, the 20-year-old has recorded a point in eight of his last 10 games.
THIS WEEKEND: vs. Michigan, Jan. 16.
PENN STATE (4-2-0, 10-7-2)
OVERVIEW: The Nittany Lions are set to reveal new uniforms in Friday’s matchup against Michigan State. Hopefully, a change in jerseys will help build on the momentum of Saturday’s 4-1 win over Ohio State as it is the team’s lone win in 2015. With nine different power-play goal scorers, Penn State will hope one of its offensive weapons can find a way to crack the Big Ten’s best penalty kill unit as MSU boasts an 84.1 percent efficiency. The two-headed monster of sophomore Eamon McAdam and junior Matthew Skoff at goalie will be the focus. The Spartans don’t possess a threatening offense, but both Penn State goaltenders have been inconsistent this season, both capable of 30-save performances while also susceptible to surrendering four-or-more goals on any given night.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Junior Eric Scheid had missed nearly two months of action thanks to a concussion he suffered on Nov. 21 in a game against Michigan. However, missing six games couldn’t cool off the forward from Blaine, Minn., as he recorded two goals and two assists in his return to the lineup last weekend. Scheid recorded goals in consecutive games before suffering a concussion and with a strong return against the Buckeyes, is now second on the team with nine goals. The 5-foot-10 forward could surpass his numbers from a season ago despite the hiatus, needing just three goals to reach a new career-high for the season.
THIS WEEKEND: vs. Michigan State, Jan. 16-17.
WISCONSIN (0-2-0, 2-12-2)
OVERVIEW: A young Badgers team showed both its capabilities and inexperience in a single period of hockey against No. 2 ranked Boston University. On Friday, Matt Ustaski scored three minutes into the third period to take a controlling 3-1 lead for Wisconsin over one of the nation’s strongest teams. However, with under two minutes left in regulation the Badgers were unable to close out the Terriers surrendering not one, but two goals while defending against a 6-on-5 opportunity and settled for a 3-3 tie. That’s been the story of the season thus far for Wisconsin, flashes of brilliance with a long stretch of struggles mixed in between. Going on the road for the first time since Nov. 22, the Badgers will hope for a few more flashes and few less struggles as they compete in a fifth and sixth consecutive game against a USCHO Poll top 20 team.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Seven of the Badgers’ top eight scorers are underclassmen, including sophomore Jedd Soleway. A sixth round draft pick of the then-Phoenix Coyotes in 2013, Soleway has played some of his best hockey against the nation’s top teams. In seven games against USCHO top 20 teams, the 6-foot-3 forward has recorded three goals and an assist and has picked up a point in three consecutive games. That success has come at home though, and Soleway will have to prove himself against the No. 16 Gophers in the hostile confines of Mariucci Arena.
THIS WEEKEND: at Minnesota, Jan. 16-17.
The Big Ten will descend on Joe Louis Arena for the first time from March 19-21 as the conference’s championship tournament will be staged in Detroit with all five games set to air live on the Big Ten Network. All-session ticket packages, which include one ticket to all five games of the tournament, start at $45, and are now on sale at the JLA box office (313-471-7575), all Ticketmaster (800-745-3000) outlets, and online at OlympiaEntertainment.com.
The top two seeds entering the tournament receive byes through the opening-round games, which will take place March 19 at 4:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. The semifinals are scheduled for March 20 at 4:30 p.m. and 8 p.m., with the championship game set to follow on March 21 at 8 p.m.