“That’s why you play Junior “A” hockey - to go to college. Especially at the Division I level. When I got that offer, it was like, obviously my hard work paid off and I couldn’t really pass that up.”
Those are the words of Niagara Purple Eagles freshman forward Rocky Gruttadauria, who spent the last two seasons for the Buffalo Junior Sabres. But just as he was about to start his third, he got a call from Niagara University.
“I wanted to play another year of junior, especially because I got to know all the guys and stuff. But I couldn’t pass up an opportunity like that,” Gruttadauria explains.
Gruttadauria grew up in Spencerport, NY, where he played hockey for Spencerport High School and the Rochester Red Wings organization. For his junior year he went on to play “AAA” hockey for Monroe County. After graduating he moved away from home and joined the Jr. Sabres.
Gruttadauria describes his experience: “It was pretty eye opening. I moved away from home, I learned how to live on my own and everything like that my first year. The hockey was a real big step for me too, I had to adjust.”
Playing for the Jr. Sabres helped Gruttadauria get an offer from Niagara University. “That league is a good stepping stone for college hockey. A lot of programs are getting a bunch of the top players from that league. Getting used to everything at the junior level definitely prepared me for this level.”
Gruttadauria admits he doesn’t believe he was one of the top players in the OJHL, but his hard work is what got him where he is today. “I play a hard-working style of hockey that people can look to to get fired up. I’ll get a big hit if we need it or fight if we need it.”
That type of team-first attitude is how Gruttadauria earned the respect of his teammates. Current Jr. Sabres assistant captain Ryan Schmelzer looked up to Rocky as a leader when they played together.
“Rocky was a great leader on and off the ice,” said Schmelzer. “He was very passionate and pushed us to do our best every practice and game.”
In his first game with Niagara, Gruttadauria was thrown into the starting lineup because of a few injuries. He made his opportunity count by scoring a goal in that game. He went on to receive AHA Rookie of the Week honors for the first week of October. “I just didn’t want to hold anything back for that game so I could be in the lineup for the next one,” said Gruttadauria.
His hard work has paid off. Gruttadauria has become a staple of the Purple Eagles lineup, collecting one goal and one assist while playing in all five of the team’s games. He’ll get a chance to add to those totals this weekend as Niagara travels to Clarkson, NY to face the Clarkson Golden Knights on Friday and Saturday. Both games start at 7 p.m., and can be heard live on WJJL 1440AM and PurpleEagles.com.
As for the current edition of the Jr. Sabres, they occupy top spot in the OJHL’s West Division with a record of 12-6-1. Forward Tyler Gjurich is third in the league in scoring with 26 points (11+15). The team continues to cash in with the man advantage, scoring 27 power play goals in just 19 games.
The Jr. Sabres play three games in three days this weekend, starting Friday when the St. Michaels Buzzers pay a visit to the Northtown Center at 7:30 p.m. They hit the road on Saturday to face the Toronto Junior Canadiens (7:30 p.m.), before returning home Sunday to host the Georgetown Raiders at 7:30 p.m.
For more information on upcoming Jr. Sabres games, check out their web site at www.buffalojrsabres.pointstreaksites.com