There is an old coach’s adage that goes something like this: the one aspect of hockey you can control is how much effort you put in. No matter whether your name appears in the scoresheet: you can still give maximum effort: those are the players who succeed. It turns out that a father/son trip to watch hockey players who gave it their all were what inspired a young Griffin Lunn to get started playing the game:
My dad is the one who got me hooked on hockey; he would take me to public skates when I was 2 years old and would always take me to see the Buffalo Sabres play downtown. I started playing house hockey when I was 4 years old and made the transition to travel hockey around age 7 or 8. I played for several local AAA teams, including the Buffalo Regals, West Seneca Wings and Wheatfield Blades.
But it was actually his father’s father who led him to the next step in his hockey journey.
My grandfather went to Nichols, so he was always pitching it to me growing up. I decided to go there because of the academics and the hockey program. The school challenges you and does a great job preparing you for college. Playing at Nichols is where I began to realize that I could be a very good hockey player.
Lunn was never afraid to challenge himself in his years at Nichols: playing up with the 16U team as a 14 year old freshman and finishing 3rd in points. He played at the 18U level in his sophomore season and earned minutes on the team’s top line, working his way up from the fourth line. He progressed to lead the team in scoring by the time he concluded his junior year, but change was in the cards the following year.
My senior year I had to make a decision: play for Nichols again or leave to play for the Buffalo Jr. Sabres in the OJHL. It was a very hard decision to make but I knew that the Jr. Sabres would better help me achieve my goal of playing D1 hockey. Nichols did a great job of preparing me for this team and it didn’t take long for me to adjust.
Of course, just looking at a player’s team affiliations on a website doesn’t do justice to the day-to-day sacrifice that it takes in order to play the game of hockey.
Being the only American team in the league wasn’t fun because it meant that we had to drive over two hours into Canada to play our games. Also, Nichols school ends at 3:15, so I had to rush to the Jr. Sabres rink for 3:40 practice every day.
His time spent with the Jr. Sabres was fruitful, entering the league as an 18-year-old and producing a healthy 38 points in 54 OJHL games against older competition. That consistent theme of hard work continued to pay off as scouts in the USHL began to take notice.
I initially had contact with the Bloomington Thunder when I got invited to their camp after my junior year of high school. Later that summer, head coach Dennis Williams asked me to play in the Chowder Cup with a group of Bloomington players and other prospects. I went, knowing that it would give him more time to get to know me and watch me play.
Despite having a good look at Lunn’s play, the Thunder chose not to pick him in the annual USHL Draft. That’s when he went back to work, put up the aforementioned solid season in the OJHL in 2015-16 and came back to the Bloomington camp this summer with a renewed purpose.
I was much better and more confident after playing a year in the OJHL. I knew that I deserved to make the team and I went out and proved it. I played in both all-star games this time and produced. I wasn’t just trying to make this team, I was also showcasing myself to the several college coaches in the stands. I guess it worked because the Bloomington coaches really liked the way I played and asked me to come to their 30-man camp at the end of summer. I was more than excited.
Before Lunn’s performance at Bloomington camp, it had becoming increasingly difficult to secure the eyes of D1 college coaches.
I started talking to colleges my sophomore year of high school, beginning with St. Lawrence University. Eventually, with help from Coach Printz [from Nichols] and my parents, I made up a list of 10 or so D1 colleges that I would like to go to. I started out by emailing all of them, expressing my interest for them and telling them about myself. Over the following 3 years I would occasionally email them all, letting them know whenever I had a showcase or tournament. Some would email me back and some wouldn’t. Most of them would see me play over the course of the past 3 seasons, but only Princeton, St. Lawrence, and Holy Cross would ever show any sincere interest. I visited both St. Lawrence and Princeton.
But, it seemed as though everything turned around after this year’s Bloomington camp.
I started talking to Colgate University this summer. The assistant coach saw me play at Bloomington’s camp and was very interested in me. We talked on the phone a few times and set up a visit to see the campus before I left for 30-man camp. On my visit they offered me a spot; I couldn’t believe that it was actually happening. I called them the next day and told them that I wanted to be a Raider. It was a very easy decision for me.
He chose Colgate because of the small campus, academic reputation and a historic hockey program. It certainly helps that Colgate is only a few hours away from his hometown by car, allowing family to come and see him play every weekend – a luxury that is certainly not a given for college hockey athletes.
As is custom at Neutral Zone, we ask the players to describe their game for the fans who have never seen him play before. So for the #GoGate faithful, Lunn describes his game as:
I’m not very tall, only 5’10’’. In order to be a successful hockey player, I’ve adapted my game so that I can compete against taller and older opponents. I’m a very good skater, which enables me to be an effective 2-way forward. I have a good shot and have a knack for finding open teammates in the offensive zone. In the defensive zone, I’m not afraid to block shots or take a hit. I play a 200 ft. game. I’m aggressive and work hard in all 3 zones and I’m not afraid to hit anyone, not even guys who have 7 inches and 20 pounds on me.
While college commitments seem to be 14, 15 and 16 year olds, Lunn was patient and never gave up on his dream of playing division one college hockey. He has had to move, play in several different leagues and do whatever it takes to keep proving he belongs. Despite not being drafted in the USHL, he finds himself today with a college commitment and playing a key role in the country’s top junior league.
Lunn, a 3.5 star prospect, is due to matriculate to Hamilton, NY in 2018, after completing two more years of junior hockey.
Photo Credit: Dan Hickling/ Hickling Images