As he puts it, the junior hockey suitcase for goaltender Josh Graziano has “plenty of stickers,” but the well-traveled prospect’s path, while winding, has a final destination of Union College, after the Buffalo native committed to the program last week.
“Graziano is a three year National Camp Invitee and certainly looks the part at 6’2” and athletic,” our scouts said. “His frame and ability to come out and challenge shooters is rare and he swallows up loose pucks.”
This season Graziano has appeared in 18 games for the NAHL expansion franchise, the New Mexico Ice Wolves, where he has posted a. .907 save percentage.
NZ: Who or what first got you into hockey as a kid?
Graziano: “From a young age, I remember my family watching Buffalo Sabres games together, which immediately sparked my interest in the game. Then, after I learned to skate at about 4 years old, my dad built an ice rink every winter in our backyard, where I could be found from the second I got off the school bus until I was too tired to stand and it was bedtime. I am so privileged to have parents who have supported my dream throughout my career.”
NZ: When did you first start playing goalie? Was there anything or anyone in particular that influenced your decision to play that position?
Graziano: “My first year of organized hockey, my dad was our head coach. He gave everyone the opportunity to try every position, including goalie. My biggest frustration in hockey was having to wait on the bench in between shifts, itching to play more. My first game as a goalie I quickly realized, under most circumstances, the goalie gets to play the entire game, not waiting on the bench. I never looked back.”
NZ: How would you describe your style as a goaltender? What are your strengths?
Graziano: “I would describe my style as minimalist: using less movement and reaction, while instead having proper depth and angle to use my larger frame to my advantage and give shooters little area to shoot at. Also, my communication with my defensemen allows me to “quarterback” the backend to give our team the best advantages and allow me to make the saves I should make.”
NZ: What are some areas you’re looking to improve on this year?
Graziano: “Daily I work on improving my skating because I believe that is an area that can always be improved upon for any goalie.”
NZ: You had the opportunity to spend a little time with the NTDP – what was that experience like?
Graziano: “That was one of the best experiences of my career thus far. Wearing my country’s colors for the first time was truly breathtaking. Also, being able to be at the rink from 9-5 daily and improve my game with Coach Thomas Speer and Kevin Reiter was incredibly unique.
“Between the shooting room, weight room, goalie skates (sometimes with Jimmy Howard, and Connor Hellebuyck, and shooters Dylan Larkin, and Quinn Hughes), team practices with both the 17 (01) and 18 (00) teams, and first-class treatment at home and on the road, my game grew more in those three months than anytime else.”
NZ: I’ve got to ask … how does a kid from Buffalo, N.Y. end up playing junior hockey in New Mexico?
Graziano: “After finishing my second year of junior in Canada, I was looking to go back to the USA and play in the NAHL. I was fortunate enough to have a number of teams communicate their interest in me before the NAHL draft, and I was exuberant to be selected 2nd overall by the New Mexico Ice Wolves.”
NZ: What is the hockey scene like down there?
Graziano: “The hockey scene seems to grow more and more every day. Being an expansion team in a nontraditional hockey market, I wondered how the response and fan support would be. I was overwhelmed. We have sold out almost every single home game, despite some early adversity, and the youth teams really look up to the players on the team and now have a strong hockey goal beyond 16U.
“The fans in Albuquerque are full of passion and get the Outpost shaking for every game. I cannot thank them enough or express how much it means to us, the pride we have playing in-front of them.”
NZ: The weather is a little warmer, obviously … was it a culture shock moving to that area of the country for the first time?
Graziano: “Most definitely, but I have loved the experience. The New Mexican food and culture is so unique to what I am used to in the Northeast. Being the chile capital of the world, something I learned quickly was most restaurants I went to would ask after my order: red or green? Chile, that is, to which Christmas is my answer.”
NZ: I believe you’re the Ice Wolves’ first Division I commitment. That has to be a huge honor.
Graziano: “It is a tremendous honor, and I know that it is just the tip of the iceberg. With all of the time, money, and effort owner Stan Hubbard and the rest of the Ice Wolves staff have invested, the program is paving the way for many players to experience first-class hockey development that will lead to numbers of future commitments.”
NZ: You’ve had a lot of junior hockey experience across a number of different leagues, how do you think those experiences have shaped you as a player?
Graziano: “My junior hockey suitcase has definitely gotten enough stickers. I think that seeing a handful of different organizations and coaching staffs allowed me find what does and does not work for me as a player. I also think that having to go through trades only helped my ability to work through adversity. Whenever something “bad” in my career happened, instead of feeling sorry for myself or questioning what I did wrong, I realized: nobody cares, work harder. From a young age my dad has always stressed to me a simple, yet powerful message: hard work pays off, and I have taken that with me wherever I’ve gone.”
NZ: What made Union the place you wanted to play your college hockey?
Graziano: “There is a long list of reasons that I knew Union College was the place for me. To start, the coaching staff, specifically Coach Tapp, were upfront and honest throughout the whole recruitment process and I felt comfortable playing for them for the next four years.
“Also, the campus is close to home, in a central location not only of the ECAC, but the northeastern USA, and reminded me a lot of Nichols School, which I attended for seven years and loved before making the move to junior hockey.
“With Union College, I felt that it would be a perfect fit for me as a hockey player, due to their history of goalie success and facilities provided for the team. Lastly, the academics at the school are prestigious, and I know it will be a place that will challenge me, while also preparing me for my career and life after hockey.”