For Caleb Gannelli, landing a roster spot on an elite Junior A hockey team is quite a testament to his talent.
It’s an even greater measure of respect for the 2012 graduate of Amherst Steele High School that he was discovered when his new coach came to his game with the idea of watching someone else.
Gannelli, a defenseman who helped Amherst to a 31-3 record and a Greater Cleveland High School Hockey League Baron Cup II title in 2011-12, was skating for Team Ohio at the Eastern Junior Hockey League Spring Showcase in Marlborough, Mass.
Dan Hodge, coach of the Cape Cod Islanders, was there. Hodge was seeking players to sign for the 2012-13 season and got a pleasant surprise when he saw a lanky 6-foot-2 kid gliding around the ice.
“Honestly, I wasn’t there to see him,” Hodge said. “He truly stood out. I couldn’t take my eyes off him. He handled the puck so well. He was head and shoulders above the rest of them.”
Hodge talked to Gannelli and his father, Rocky, after the game. Gannelli is now an Islander. He will begin playing for his new team, based in Hyannis, Mass., in September.
“I was real surprised,” Gannelli said. “I didn’t know what to expect there. My dad just said, ‘Give it your all and maybe someone will notice you.’”
Being noticed playing hockey in Massachusetts isn’t so easy, particularly coming from Ohio.
Many more high school athletes compete in that sport in the New England states than play it in Ohio. It is something not lost on Gannelli.
“Definitely, I’m real happy about what happened to me,” he said. “I got lucky. I’m playing juniors in a hotbed of hockey and getting a chance.”
What Gannelli is hoping to do is play college hockey, the ultimate dream of most junior league players. Gannelli, an All-Southwestern Conference player as a junior and senior, is hoping to land a position on a college team in Ohio, possibly Bowling Green or Miami, or play for a New England college.
“I want to play one or two years of juniors,” Gannelli said. “Then I hope to be seen by some college coaches. I hope to be recognized just like I was when I went to Massachusetts.”
While Hodge recognized Gannelli’s play, the coach might’ve been more impressed when he learned of his new pupil’s statistics. Gannelli scored 18 goals and had 43 assists for the Comets last season.
“It isn’t often you find a defenseman who can give you that much offense,” Hodge said. “Even on a high school team that’s really something. No wonder he was an all-star.”
Hodge should know something about defensive players who can score. His father, Ken Hodge, was a member of two Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins teams and a teammate of Bobby Orr, considered the defenseman with the greatest offensive ability to ever play the game.
“Caleb is also a very nice young man,” Hodge said. “You see that right away when you talk to him. He’s polite. He isn’t shy. When he answers your questions you know he isn’t kidding you, or saying just what he thinks you want to hear.”
The Islanders are first-season members of the Northern States Hockey League, a seven-team league that includes the Eastern Kodiaks (Exeter, N.H.), Junior Mariners (Salem, N.H.), Lake George (N.Y.) Spirit, New England Stars (Dracut, Mass.), Syracuse Stampede and Trenton (N.J.) Habs.
Gannelli is, so far, one of only two players on the Islanders who doesn’t live on Cape Cod. He’ll live with a host family nearby.
“I’m a little nervous,” Caleb admitted. “I haven’t lived away from my family before. This is going to uncharted territory. But it will be great to play hockey at a higher level.”
Contact Steve Byrne at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.