When you ask most hockey players where they grew up and got their start playing the game, Canada is the common beginning. It makes sense when kids in Canada are thrown on the ice and in skates by the age of three, learning to skate before they walk. As hockey has grown in popularity, it has expanded beyond the northern border and taken root in places where the only water that is frozen is in your freezer; places like Texas, California, Florida, Las Vegas. Yes, Hockey is thriving in the Sin City and believe it or not two Las Vegas natives play for the ECHL’s Wranglers this season, forward Chris Francis and defenseman Eddie DelGrosso. Despite being born in Niagara Falls, New York, blueliner DelGrosso is a product of the Las Vegas hockey system, developing his game in the Nevada desert. He started on the ice at three, when his family was still in Niagara Falls and moved out to Vegas when he was six years old. There was only one rink in town then and only one team per age group that traveled to play teams in California and Arizona. He said it was tough getting people to come out for hockey and that most of the time from his mites to bantam years the teams only had 12 guys. DelGrosso thinks that getting an early start and being part of a smaller hockey community helped him get to where he is today.
“I think for me, looking back on it, it might have been a good thing starting out like I did so young back in New York. It probably helped me and then coming out here was probably a good thing too because you don’t get lost in the shuffle and you have more time and ice to develop and kind of try to stand out a little bit more.”
Many players who develop outside Canada do so through roller hockey and DelGrosso is no exception, playing mostly during the summer. For him roller was an off-season endeavor although he did end up playing on a team for his last year of high school. His focus has always been ice hockey and his inspiration for pursuing the Dream was close to home. His cousin Marc Magliarditi was a netminder for the Las Vegas Wranglers and seeing him play even before he got there, when he played in the USHL and major juniors, pushed DelGrosso to further his game. The biggest impact on DelGrosso’s development came from Rob Pallin, Assistant coach for the Wranglers during the 2011-12 season.
“He was my coach all through midgets and a real close family friend. He helped me out a lot and he was the one who moved me back to defence to play. We also kept in contact throughout the years and he was the one who said you’re good enough to go play junior, and good enough to play college.”
He decided to stay in the States to play juniors before spending four years at the University of Nebraska-Omaha. The USHL was a great experience for him and he would be back there in a heartbeat if he could. His first year in the USHL he played for the St Louis Heartland Eagles and then spent the next two years with the Indiana Ice and lived in Indianapolis, which made an impression on him.
“I had such a great time in Indianapolis. I think it’s one of the best places to go play in juniors. It’s a great downtown city and the neighborhood we lived in was beautiful and the ownership there treated us amazing…I had a lot of fun there, that part made it easy to relax and just play hockey. I think the development of the hockey part was great and going in to school later for me I think helped me out a lot as far as making sure maturity wise that I was ready for school and hockey at the same time and the maturity of your body too.”
For a defenseman, a mature body is essential to cope with the physical demands of working the defensive trenches. DelGrosso has always been more of an offensively minded defenseman but as he worked through juniors and college he became more comfortable with being a shutdown guy and working to compete in all three zones of the ice. Good defensemen also bring a sense of calm to the blueline and DelGrosso says that is one thing that he is naturally good at.
“I always keep my composure, whether it’s never getting too high when we are up big or never getting too low, and hopefully that carries over (to the team).”
DelGrosso spent last season playing in the Netherlands and he had a good time playing over in Europe with HYS The Hague. The team had a great season and won the Dutch Cup for 2012-2013. During the summer he thought about heading back there but he said being away for so long starts to wear on you. When he heard that Mike Madill would take over as head coach for the Wranglers, the decision to stay at home to play was an easy one.
“I think having Mike come in as the coach changed a lot of the things here and a lot of the attitude around the organization. He’s such an even-tempered guy and such an easy guy to deal with and I played with him a little bit, I know the type of person he is and I would love to play for the guy. “
DelGrosso will bring his expertise to the power play unit. The Wranglers have struggled in the past year on the power play but he thinks they now have the right group of guys to change that for the better. He knows that he can contribute a steadiness to the blueline and he believes in his Coach, a hard-working guy that the team respects and is willing to work hard for to get the win.