WNY Hockey Prospects

10 Questions: Nico Gonzalez

Nico Gonzalez (Image courtesy of Dan Hickling)

 

1.  Where did you grow up? What was it like growing up in Rochester?

As a kid I grew up in Greece (Rochester, NY).  I found at an early age that growing up in Rochester there is always something to do.  Although it may not seem that way anymore, I know that at 19 years old I can still find fun things to do.

 

2.  Did you play other sports growing up?

Growing up I played soccer and hockey.  Once I got to high school I began playing lacrosse instead of soccer.  Sports have always been a huge part of my family.

 

3.  What got you in to playing hockey growing up? Was it family or friends?

When I was three years old and my brother Brandon was 4, he asked my father if we could try hockey.  My dad brought my brother and me to our local rink (Lakeshore Ice Arena) and we never looked back from there.  We played together for most of our youth until travel hockey came around where we each played with our respective age groups.  My father never played hockey, but my aunts and uncles and my grandfather on my mother’s side were all born in Montreal and grew up playing the sport.  The sport has always been in our blood.

 

4.  Where did you go to highschool? Did you play high school hockey?

I went to high school at Aquinas Institute.  It is a private catholic high school in Rochester.  I played varsity hockey my freshman and sophomore year.  Each of those years I participated in a split season with travel hockey, allowing me to play for Aquinas.

 

5.  Where did you play and who did you play with growing up before playing with the Jr. Sabres?

I played for numerous teams in Rochester before joining the Jr. Sabres organization.  I played for the Rochester Americans for several years growing up before joining the Rochester Alliance at age 14.  I was on Rochester Alliance for two years before playing in Buffalo.  I played under excellent coaches in minor hockey such as Rochester Americans hall of famer Jim Hofford.  I also played for former NHL’er and current assistant coach of the Boston Bruins, Doug Houda.

 

6.  You played last season with some pretty well-seasoned veterans on the Jr. Sabres who moved on the NCAA Division I hockey. What did you learn from those players during your time with them?

Last season on the Buffalo Jr. Sabres I played with an awesome group of guys.  The closeness of the team was unlike anything I had ever experienced in my life.  I became great friends with all current Division 1 players Max Mikowski (RIT), Nolan Sheeran (Canisius), Ryan Schmelzer (Canisius), and Nick DeSimone (Union).  Playing alongside those caliber guys you’re obviously going to learn something on and off the ice right? Essentially I learned what it takes to make it to the next level.  Each one of them brought it every single day, game or practice.  They jumped at every opportunity to better themselves and their preparation was always there.  Now as a veteran myself I am glad to have had them as teammates and still remain friends with them.

 

7.  Many people that live in Western New York think that Buffalo is the only area for talented hockey players yet Rochester might very have two of the best three players in the NHL right now with Brian Gionta and Ryan Callahan. How does the hockey in Rochester compare to Buffalo? What do you think it is about players from Rochester that breeds such talented hockey players?

Many people from Western New York make the mistake of comparing Buffalo and Rochester talent. Each cities are evolving as hockey towns and are producing great talent every year.  On a wider scale, due to the fact that Buffalo has an NHL team, a lot of people do not look at Rochester as that prime place to grow up playing hockey in.  Each city in Western New York has bread star athletes that are now currently in the NHL.  I will say that I do believe Rochester is underrated in terms of places to play hockey in.  There are plenty of hockey rinks and excellent organizations in Rochester that make it possible for such talented players to become even better while they are there.  As far as Buffalo talent vs. Rochester talent, I suppose we’ll let the Bowman Cup try to decide that in the years to come.

 

8.  Before playing with the Jr Sabres OJHL team you played with the U16 and U18 program for a season each. Did you have to commute from Rochester to play? If so, what was it like making that trip every day? How did you balanbce school and work?

As a junior in high school I played for the Buffalo Jr. Sabres 16U team and then 18U as a senior.  The commute from Rochester to Buffalo several times a week for two years was not easy.  Practices were late which meant getting home after midnight almost every time.  School came only a couple hours after pulling in the driveway, therefore homework had to be done on the car rides up and back.  Thankfully a few other Rochester born players were on each of those teams and we were able to carpool to each practice.  Balancing good grades along with a hectic hockey schedule was not easy, but discipline and organization allowed me to be successful.

 

9.  Can you describe the process of playing for the Jr. Sabres? How did you try out for the team and what is life like playing for them once you make it?

With the conclusion of my 18U season there was interest from the Buffalo Jr. Sabres (Jr. A) about me playing there for the upcoming season.  I participated in a summer tournament with some of the players from the season before and performed well.  A couple weeks later I tried out for the team and received a call from Michael Peca letting me know that I had made it.  My first year of junior hockey experience was great and I’m happy it was in Buffalo.  I got to live with my brother who attends college there and be close to my family.  The hockey aspect was also great for me.  With former NHL’er Michael Peca as head coach I learned a lot about the game that have helped me to improve certain aspects of it.  I made lifelong friendships and created lasting memories.

 

10.  You were leading the Jr. Sabres in scoring since the season started but you were recently traded to the OJHL Toronto Lakeshore Patriots, who won the OJHL title last season and seemed poised to challenge for a league title again. What was it like hearing you were traded? How did you find out? How did your parents take the news? What were your feelings about going to Toronto and how has it been so far playing for the Patriots?

Yes, I was off to a good start in Buffalo as far as points and I was playing fairly well when I found out I was acquired in a trade by the Toronto Patriots.  I received a phone call from General Manager and former Coach Michael Peca about the news.  I cannot describe what it was like hearing that I had been traded.  It was definitely something I hadn’t felt before.  I contacted my parents immediately and they were both extremely optimistic about my new opportunity with the Toronto Patriots.  Each of them were aware that it was the Patriots last season who won the OJHL and then went on to win the Dudley Hewitt Cup as well.  I had mixed emotions when I found out I was moving to Toronto.  Part of me hated the fact that I was leaving behind my brother whom I lived with and who is my best friend and number one supporter, along with all the other people I would be leaving behind.  Another part of me was anxious and excited as ever to move to Canada, where everything revolves around hockey.  The support of my family and former teammates made the short-notice move go much smoother than I thought it would.  Coach Fortier, my current coach and general manager called me immediately after being acquired and was extremely helpful in assuring me that I would love playing for the Patriots.  Since moving to Toronto I have learned a side of hockey that I have never seen before.  It consumes my entire days and I could not be happier about that.  I have transitioned well and have already created great relationships with my new teammates and coach.  My billet family has been amazing, welcoming me into their home and making it feel just as comfortable as my own.  I love every part of playing out here in Toronto for the Patriots.  I am right where I belong.

 

Disclaimer: This article was originally posted October of 2014. This article has been posted to Archives due to February 2015 website rebuild.

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