Photo by Rena Laverty
It’s hard to imagine a more natural sport than hockey for Jonathan Gruden. His inspiration no doubt came from his dad John, who played professionally in the National Hockey League and in Europe before beginning a coaching career.
“I started playing hockey when I was two,” explained Gruden. “My dad was playing in Germany so I got my start there. He put me on the ice and I didn’t like it at first but I just kept getting used to it and I just loved it.”
The younger Gruden doesn’t remember too much about his dad’s playing days; however, he does remember the lessons he learned growing up on what it means to be a hockey player.
He also had an up close look at the USA Hockey National Team Development Program prior to joining this past August. John served as an assistant coach for the NTDP from 2010-15, and currently serves as the head coach of the Ontario Hockey League's Hamilton Bulldogs. Jonathan learned early on how special it would be to play for his country.
“The big thing was playing for your country. It’s an honor. Not many people get to experience that. To be one of the 22 people to represent, it is an honor for me,” said Gruden.
In addition, Gruden also took some valuable lessons from his dad that he applies to his everyday life.
“Never take a day off,” explained Gruden on his dad’s advice. “Everyone is working extremely hard and you just have to put the extra work in. Sometimes less is more. You have to keep that same mentality every day.”
The other superhero in his family was his mom, Polly. With all the time John spent coaching, she was the one who had to drive Jonathan to hockey practice every day.
“I am extremely lucky to have her,” said Gruden. “She took me everywhere with my dad coaching and always traveling. She has been my biggest supporter in hockey and I wouldn’t be here without her.”
Gruden arrived in Plymouth, Michigan, after playing in Detroit with HoneyBaked. It was tough at first, but he definitely feels he adjusted as the season went on.
“It wasn’t too bad. I’m pretty close to home so that was nice. School is definitely different. Going to play against the [United States Hockey League] was hard at first but as the year went on, we did a good job buying in and adapting to the league,” he said.
The 5-foot-11, 160-pound forward did, however, learn plenty about himself in his first year with the NTDP.
“I learned that I can be that any role type of guy,” said Gruden, who finished with 16 goals and 27 points in 56 games. “Coming here, there were people who wanted to score and be that guy. For me, I want to play all roles. If coach wants me to penalty kill, I will go do that, or if I need to be on the power play, I will do that. I am willing to do any role for the coach.”
He also credits watching video in helping his game grow.
“Coach [Danton] Cole did a lot of video so we could reflect on our game and what we needed to do,” explained Gruden. “He would tell us the good things we were doing and what we needed to work on. That was huge. For every game, we did pre-scouting video of the teams so we would have a better feel of who we were going to play that night so that was nice.”
Nothing stands out more to Gruden than being able to wear the colors of Team USA. He still remembers the first time he put on the red, white and blue jersey.
“It gave me chills the first time I put it on,” he said. “It was a lot of work that went into that. We have a lot of work to do next year to hopefully win that gold medal. It would be surreal to do that. It’s an honor to put on the red, white and blue every day. There are people overseas battling for us to wear it so it’s an honor.”
He does have one memory that sticks out to him from his Under-17 season, and that was the team’s first international tournament victory — at the Four Nations in Switzerland in mid-December.
“It was the first time we had won a tournament as a team,” said Gruden. “We really bonded after that and grew as a team. The Russia game — we won 4-1 [on Dec. 17]. We trailed 1-0 after the first period and we really bought into what coach had to say and went all out after that. It was a pretty big game to beat them.”
Gruden knows that that needs to continue to improve and grow his game this summer.
“I need to get bigger, faster and stronger,” he stated. “I’m not the biggest guy so I need to work on my strength and speed. I’ll skate at USA Hockey Arena and train closer to home.”
There is one thing that drives Gruden to improve his game. He could see the strides the team was making, even if the results were not showing up in the win-loss column.
“Coach really emphasized in practice that we had to carry it over into games so that was huge,” he said. “We did a great job, carrying over what we preached in practice and implementing it in games.
“It was tough losing those close games. You have to control what you can control, whether it is going back out after a tough shift or a tough game. It was tough this first year. It was all for a purpose and I look forward to carrying out our second season.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
Photo by Rena Laverty
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