After scoring only 10 goals in 53 games entering the 2014-15 season, Ohio State men’s hockey’s Anthony Greco aimed for a breakout year.
“You have to get bigger, faster and stronger every year in the summertime, but the big thing for me coming off the past two years was I just had to get to a better place mentally,” the junior forward said.
Greco started his hockey career in his hometown of Queens, N.Y., where he played for the Long Island Royals. He was quickly recruited at age 12, by the late J.P. Parise, to play for Shattuck-St. Mary’s in Faribault, Minn., alma mater of NHL superstars like Jonathan Toews, Sidney Crosby and Zach Parise, J.P.’s son.
He excelled at Shattuck, and was recruited into the United States Hockey League his junior year. Greco started to shine as a player while playing for the Des Moines Buccaneers, under coach Regg Simon, before moving on to OSU.
“Anthony’s greatest asset is he has the elite level of speed,” Simon said. “When he’s playing fast and using his speed to attack defensemen, it creates opportunities for himself and his teammates.”
But Greco’s freshman year with the Buckeyes did not go according to plan.
“Six games into the season I was out with a high ankle sprain,” Greco said. “I was out for 11-12 weeks, it was miserable because I felt like I was finally getting used to the level of play at college.”
For Greco, missing out in the games meant he was missing out on the opportunity to bond with his teammates on and off the ice.
“I missed so many road trips and things that are important for freshmen to get involved in, I never really got my full freshman experience,” Greco said.
Coming back from the injury he struggled to click with the team again.
“I came back behind, I was never really able to establish anything,” Greco said.
Now in his junior year, Greco’s mentality has changed.
It all started with a number.
“I was 44 my freshman year, then changed to 14 (then back to 44), so it was kind of a joke. It was like pick a number and stick with it, enough with the changing,” Greco said. “I always joke around that 44 makes me look a little bit bigger on the ice, too.”
Greco quickly showed that his bigger number was going to lead to a bigger personality on the ice, as he scored his first career hat trick against then-No. 4 Providence in OSU’s season-opening win.
Twenty-five games later, Greco has taken the reigns of the offense, with 14 goals and two hat tricks so far this season.
Greco also strives to be the go-to guy in the offense, he said.
“I like the responsibility. I think I play better when that’s the mentality. That’s how it was for me in juniors. Having confidence and believing in yourself is really the key,” he said.
Greco said most of his confidence comes from his teammates.
Senior captain Tanner Fritz and Greco have had the most chemistry on offense throughout the season and have become the go-to line for offensive production.
“Playing with a guy like Tanner Fritz, who is so good at controlling the puck and making plays, I am able to work well off that and it sets me up for success,” Greco said.
With Fritz and Greco receiving playing time on the ice together last year, the two already had harmony as a unit.
“I love playing with him (Greco). Last year we built some chemistry, he’s fun to play with, he’s probably one of the fastest guys in college hockey, so it’s more so about me trying to keep up with him,” Fritz said.
With the Buckeyes struggling to maintain consistency throughout their season, Greco’s success has been undercut.
“I mean, you look at the Michigan game, where it might have been a good night for me initially with three goals,” Greco said. “But then you lose 10-6 and then those goals don’t amount up to anything.”
Greco said even though the Buckeyes have struggled, it’s important for each player to do his part for the team.
“You can’t control everything,” Greco said. “You have to really hone in, do your job, get rid of the distractions and just be a leader on the ice.”
Going into the final games of the season, the Buckeyes are looking to gain some winning momentum and some confidence.
“It’s most important for us to start having that mentality now and kind of gain the confidence and gain that swagger,” Greco said.
Greco and the Buckeyes will look to gain that swagger in a home-and-home series against the Michigan Wolverines on Friday in Columbus at 7 p.m. and Sunday in Ann Arbor at 5 p.m.