Jake Giannone, mild-mannered Rockville Centre youth, has a not-so-terrible secret: he’s a demon on the ice.
Giannone, 12, plays for the Junior Islanders Peewee Hockey Team, and has been selected to compete on their tournament team in the 55th annual Quebec International Peewee Hockey Tournament this coming February. The tournament is the hockey equivalent to the Little League World Series, and more than 100 teams from nations as far-flung as Russia, Sweden and Finland will show to compete.
According to a letter from the team’s coach, Bernie Cassell, the players selected to represent the team have demonstrated exceptional skill, dedication and focus, both on the ice and in the classroom. Cassell should know — his full-time job is skill development coach for the New York Islanders, which officially sponsors the Peewee team, providing them with everything from practice facility to uniforms to the official Islanders playbook.
Giannone got into hockey young — he began watching the Rangers with his father, Dave, when he was four, and said Jaromir Jagr was his favorite player to watch. Shortly after, he picked up a stick and some skates and started playing roller hockey. A naturally talented player, he advanced quickly to ice hockey, and played for the Long Beach Eagles, the Freeport Arrows and the Long Island Gulls before moving up to the Jr. Islanders this past year. Along the way, his explosiveness on the ice started turning his coaches’ heads; while playing for the Arrows, he set the team record for most goals in a season, racking up 102 points.
Giannone, plays forward for the Islanders, often on the wing, and said he knew from the start that’s where he wanted to play.
“I knew because I’d been watching hockey for a few years that forwards score most of the goals,” Giannone said. “So I obviously wanted to be a forward.”
But at first, Giannone found that being a top scorer wasn’t that easy. It wasn’t until after a good deal of practice — and some advice from his father and coaches — that he began to make a difference on the ice.
“My first year I wasn’t really a good scorer,” he said. “Then I kept working on it in the summer and the offseason. And then I got better until my second year, and that’s when I set the [Arrows’] record.”
For Dave, a lifelong hockey fan, watching his son play has increased his love for the game.
“Any day of the week I’d rather watch him play than the Rangers,” Dave said — before adding, hastily, “and I love the Rangers!”
Jake Giannone hopes to play professionally when he gets older — a dream that may very well be attainable. Scouts from high schools and even some colleges attend the tournament in Quebec, and NHL employees like Cassell often coach other Peewee teams like the Jr. Penguins and Jr. Bruins, and will keep their eyes trained on players like Giannone.
When asked what New York team he’d like to play for — the Islanders or the Rangers — Giannone knew just what to say. “I just want to get drafted,” he said.