(Amherst, NY) – Rocky Gruttadauria was preparing to enter his third season with the Buffalo Junior Sabres, working out at training camp and was tentatively a candidate for team captain.
Then came an unexpected call that suddenly changed everything.
Gruttadauria has accepted a surprise offer from Niagara University to enroll at the college and play under head coach David Burkholder, beginning this season.
“I began talking to their assistant coach, Pat Oliveto, at the end of last season and over summer discussed the possibility of joining Niagara for the 2013-14 season,” said Gruttadauria. “About a week ago one of their recruits for this coming season was unable to make it and they contacted me asking if I would be willing to come this season to fill the spot.
“A few days after that, my parents and I went to visit the school and meet the coaching staff. They understood how sudden this was and how big of a decision it is; they said if it was the right fit I would know instantly.”
Gruttadauria then informed the Jr. Sabres of his decision to enroll at Niagara beginning this academic year. It’s a decision that the team wholeheartedly supports.
“This is another proud moment for our program,” said Jr. Sabres head coach and general manager Michael Peca. “I know when Grant Ledyard had him last year he loved his work ethic and leadership. He was spot on. It oozes out of Rocky. It just proves that it’s not always about how much skill you have but how big your heart is that really matters. Rocky deserves this opportunity and will be a big part of that Purple Eagle program for many years.”
A native of Rochester, New York, Gruttadauria joined the Jr. Sabres in the 2010-11 season, appearing in 47 games and scoring seven goals and eight assists. In 2011-12 he played in 44 games and increased his scoring production to 12 goals and 11 assists. In the 2012 playoffs he recorded one goal and four assists in eight games.
By enrolling now at Niagara, Gruttadauria becomes the sixth player from the 2011-12 Jr. Sabres roster to commit to a NCAA college hockey program. Chris Luker (SUNY Brockport) and Dennis Playfair (SUNY Geneseo) are also enrolling at their respective schools this fall. Current Jr. Sabres players Josh Kielich (Canisius College) and David Seward (Princeton University) plan to enroll at the colleges where they have verbally committed beginning in 2013-14. Former Jr. Sabre Andrew Poturalski (University of New Hampshire) also plans to begin school next year.
Gruttadauria calls enrolling at Niagara a dream come true – both on the ice and off the ice. He admitted it still hasn’t entire sunk in that he’s on his way to a school he’s followed since his years playing Pee Wee level hockey in Rochester.
“Niagara University is a very well-known and respected school. It’s a smaller school as well which I prefer because I find it easier to do well when professors know you personally and hold you accountable for your work,” said Gruttadauria. “Being given the opportunity to play hockey at a NCAA Division I level for any school is an honor.
“I’m extremely excited to play under Coach Burkholder because his hard working teams have been respected throughout the college hockey community for many years. I can’t wait to put in the work and be a part of that for the next 4 years.”
In the meantime, Gruttadauria looked back on his years with the Jr. Sabres and thinks they’ll be an improved club in the 2012-13 season.
“Playing for the Jr. Sabres the last two years was a crucial step in my journey to get to where I am today,” said Gruttadauria. “The Ontario Junior Hockey League is a much better league than most people in the U.S think it is.
“This coming season I think the team is stronger than it has ever been. Coach Peca has made the right moves to strengthen weak areas from last year. A smart veteran core headed by captain Derek Patterson will be the key to their success. I wish the boys the best of luck this season and I’m sure I’ll play either with or against most of them again.”
Gruttadauria looks forward to his new environment but says he will miss being a Jr. Sabre, and miss the people he’s leaving behind.
“I have made lifelong friends and drastically improved and adapted my level of play thanks to great teammates, coaches and staff. Special thanks to Equipment Manager Jack Williams for taking care of the boys while I was there… we would be lost without him.”