Teen Joseph Cecconi earns coveted spot on Team USA hockey - The Buffalo News

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Teen Joseph Cecconi earns coveted spot on Team USA hockey

Joseph Cecconi has pelted his garage door with hockey pucks, denting it from top to bottom.

He has broken a rear-view mirror on his mother’s car, two taillights and several pieces of fencing.

Yet his mother, Regina, has found it difficult to stay angry. How can she be mad when all that practice has paid off?

Hockey is already going to pay for his college, as Cecconi has earned a scholarship to play for the University of Michigan.

Next month, hockey will take Cecconi, a 17-year-old Youngstown native, to the Czech Republic as he represents Team USA at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup, a prestigious international tournament for players under the age of 18.

“He’s talked about going overseas and playing for as long as we can remember,” Regina Cecconi said. “He’s always talked about how he’s going to go play Russia.”

Now he’ll have his chance. Team USA opens against the host Czechs in Breclav on Aug. 11, faces Russia on Aug. 12 and closes the group stage the following day against Finland. The team is coached by former Buffalo Sabre Derek Plante.

“It’s a big deal because it’s the top players in the country at his age group. It’s the first look all the NHL teams get at young prospects from a world point of view,” said Todd Krygier, the former NHLer who coaches Cecconi on the USHL’s Muskegon Lumberjacks. “Every NHL team will be there and this is where they really start to identify players on a world stage.”

“It’ll be high-paced, fast games,” Cecconi said. “Usually Europeans like to play that way with the big ice surface. I’ll have to adjust to that but it should be good.”

After advancing from a regional tryout in the Syracuse area, Cecconi was selected from a field of 180 national players who gathered at the Northtown Center at Amherst for a weeklong final tryout in late June and early July.

Cecconi said coaches broke players off into separate rooms after the final day, sending one group home and congratulating the other.

“If I played the way I was supposed to, then I had a 100 percent chance of making it, I thought,” said Cecconi, a right-handed defenseman who stands 6 foot 3 and a weighs a deceptive 205 pounds.

“I can get the puck out of the zone, make a good first pass. I can play power play and penalty kill and also bring the physical game – rough up the Europeans a little bit,” he added with a grin.

Team USA took silver at last year’s tournament as Canada won gold for the sixth straight year. USA’s only championship in the 23-year history of this event was in 2003.

Cecconi began his hockey career with the Niagara Junior Purple Eagles organization and moved up through the Wheatfield Blades AAA, Regals AAA and Junior Sabres U16 clubs. He was drafted into the USHL by the Green Bay Gamblers and sent to Muskegon in a trade for Connor Hurley, whom the Sabres selected in the second round of the 2013 NHL Draft.

Cecconi made his USHL debut in December and put up eight points in 28 games.

He attends Mona Shores High School in Muskegon, Mich. while playing for the team but will graduate from Lewiston-Porter High School when he returns after the season. He chose attending Michigan over offers from Western Michigan, Miami (Ohio), Canisius, Niagara and others.

Cecconi is the only New Yorker on the USA roster. He has never been to a foreign country besides Canada and isn’t sure what to expect from Eastern Europe.

“I don’t even know what I’m gonna eat down there,” he said, in perfect 17-year-old prose.

A good performance at this event can help get players onto the World Junior team and mold their NHL draft outlooks. While still very much boys, players on this team may begin to feel playing hockey as a profession is finally within reach, rather than a dream.

“He’s on NHL watch lists,” Krygier said of Cecconi. “I think he has potential to be a first-round pick in the NHL if he has a good year. If he really asserts himself and applies himself, plays hard every game and puts the time and energy in like he has been, I think he has that potential.

“He has a complete game,” Krygier added. “One of my objectives this year is to get him to playing more offensively, and at the same time not compromising his defense. I want to see him get up in the play more, control the play more, because he has that ability.”

But if hockey does start paying Cecconi’s bills one day, one thing he won’t do is replace his mom’s garage door.

“People walk by and they know who lives there,” Regina Cecconi said. “By now it’s like a badge of honor.”

email: nveronica@buffnews.com

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