It was about three years ago when Griffin Luce started to fully understand what his grandfather meant to pro hockey, particularly in Buffalo.
For most of his life, Don Luce was just grandpa – the guy who brought him to hockey games, took him for visits to the locker room and was an opponent in some intense video game sessions.
But when Griffin’s own hockey career started to bloom at the Salisbury School in Connecticut, his NHL bloodlines became a topic of conversation.
“When I started to develop as a player more and more people kept asking about my grandfather and how he was growing up,” Luce said earlier this month at HarborCenter after his fitness testing at the NHL Scouting Combine.
Luce, a defenseman who most recently played for the U.S. National Development Program, is ranked 70th among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting and is projected to be drafted in the second or third round.
To have the first step of his professional career happen in Buffalo is a pretty happy happenstance for the 18-year-old.
“It’s really special to be able to come here and have both the combine and the draft here,” Luce said. “It’s a really special feeling. There’s a lot of history here in Buffalo and it’s a great hockey town.”
Luce was born in Wisconsin and lived in Canada from ages 2 to 13. He kept his American citizenship to be able to play for USA Hockey and spent a lot of time in Western New York, visiting his grandparents.
His grandfather, Don Luce, is a member the Sabres Hall of Fame and Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame. He missed only 14 games in his 10 years with the Sabres scoring 216 goals with 311 assists.
Perhaps he passed on athletic genes to his grandson, but the greatest lesson Griffin learned was about competitiveness.
“Growing up, we used to butt heads a little bit,” Griffin said of his youthful relationship with his grandfather.
“He’s just really competitive, I’m really competitive and he just likes to win and I like to win as well but if he ever won he’d take advantage of that.”
The competitiveness reared itself not on the ice, or even street hockey, but with video games.
“Yeah, grandpa was big on the video games,” Griffin said. “Just growing up I think he gave me that competitive edge because I saw that in him as a player and actually in all aspects of his life. He’s a really mellow guy but he really likes to win and I know he takes everything seriously.”
His father, Scott Luce, was the director of scouting for the Florida Panthers until last month when he was let go from the organization. Luce had been in scouting with the Panthers since 2002-03 and helped build a series of solid draft years for Florida.
Griffin tapped into his father’s knowledge heading into the NHL Scouting Combine.
“He really told me just to focus on me, to get in the zone especially with the testing here because it’s not so much about the numbers you put up but about the effort you put in,” Griffin said. “I think if you put in the best effort you have any team should notice that.”
The advice from his grandfather was along the same lines.
“Just put in my hardest work. Work harder than the other guys are,” Griffin said. “That’s something he’s told me since a young age and I think I’ve just got to follow through with that.”