When Matt Grazen made the transition from junior hockey to college, he noticed a few differences.
There was the speed. The game is played faster at the next level which means he not only needed to physically be quicker but mentally faster.
There was the strength. Guys were bigger and used that size to their advantage.
But there was something else Grazen noticed.
The emphasis on team.
"Growing up a lot of people are trying to get recruited or trying to move on to different teams and it’s about the individual," said Grazen, who played for the Buffalo Jr. Sabres and now is in his senior season with the Canisius Golden Griffins. "Getting here, everything is about you focus on the weekend and getting four points, each game is two points and that’s what matters. It’s really less of a focus on who’s scoring, who’s doing what. It’s more a focus on getting a good spot in the standings, making it to the playoffs."
The points this weekend won't count in the playoff standings, but there is plenty of importance in the non-conference matchup between the Ice Griffs and Ohio State as Canisius begins its HarborCenter era tonight.
For Grazen, it's an opportunity to showcase the evolution of college hockey in Western New York in front of his family and friends.
"It’s grown so much and keeps getting better," the Clarence native said. "I think it’s the steps we’ve made in my four years and before my time here, it’s been pretty incredible."
It's the not the numbers that jump out at you when talking about Grazen. Rather, it's the way he approaches the game and the maturity he's brought to the process over the past four years.
"Right now he’s bringing stability with high tempo," coach Dave Smiths said. "He competes all the time but he’s evlvoed into just a mature on-ice leader for our club. He can kill penalities. I have no hesitation if someone goes down on the power play, I just (say) 'Matt, go play this spot' and he’s 'OK, no problem coach.' He brings a tenacity to his game with a maturity that really stabilizes our younger guys."
His sophomore year was a case study in that maturity.
Grazen was penalized for a hit against an Air Force player early in the season and Atlantic Hockey issued a heavy-handed seven-game suspension.
Not only did Grazen work through that, he came back to score one of the biggest goals in program history. Back at Air Force for the quarterfinal round, his goal with 1:58 left in regulation tied the game and the Griffs went on to win, 4-3 in overtime. That set up the Canisius run to its first Atlantic Hockey championship.
"He just takes things in stride," Smith said. "He always does the right things and flies the Canisius flag loud and proud for us. He’s a great student and a great citizen and I think when you have that foundation, that grounding, it’s easier to get through tougher times and you can turn to your friends and family and you know they’re there for him because he’s there for other guys. When you sum all that up, you say it’s maturity. It’s nice to have in your program."
That team atmosphere that Grazen noted his freshman year with the Griffs is one of the things which helped him move through the difficult times.
"I think that helped a ton," Grazen said. "Everybody was supportive of me, supportive of everything that happened with me. It was kind of acknowledged that it happened but kind of pushed away. People didn’t focus on that. People just focused on me practicing every day, didn't really talk about it and just focused on me coming back. For me it was just trying to help the team, put it behind me and help the team anyway I could."