When informed that his goalie Jason Grande was going to be named the Player of the Year, West Chester Rustin coach Nick Russo put it very bluntly.
“If it was anybody other than Jason,” Russo said, “that would be a travesty.”
The wrath of Russo will be spared as Grande was head and shoulders above the pack and has certainly earned the right to be named the Daily Local News Boys Hockey All-Area Player of the Year.
Grande also has earned the high praise of his coach.
“He’s the type of player you have once in your life,” said Russo. “He’s the greatest goalie I’ve ever coached.”
The Golden Knights’ season has been well documented — a fourth straight Flyers Cup and Pennsylvania Cup championship — and the cherry on top of the sundae, a national championship title. The key component of all that hardware has been Grande in between the pipes.
“It has sunk in,” said Grande. “We realize what a season we had and our accomplishments. Everybody contributed and did it in their own way.”
Rustin came through its tough Ches-Mont scheduled second to Downingtown East in the regular season. Then, they were upended by West Chester East, before going on a memorable run.
“Everybody was making the simple plays, doing what they had to do to overcome the other team,” said Grande.
The simplest thing to do in hockey is see the puck and stop the puck. And it was something Grande did brilliantly.
He allowed two goals to Unionville and one to Hershey as the Golden Knights marched to their fourth straight Flyers Cup final.
The championship game against the Vikings turned into a war of attrition that saw Grande and his counterpart Joe Galitski turn in performances for the ages. Grande made 60 saves and Galitski 65 as the game went into the seventh period before things would be decided.
Brock Weimer scored to hand the Golden Knights their fourth straight A division title.
According to Grande, the win taught them the value of perseverance.
“We realized that if we hang in there, nothing will stop us,” he said.
Russo says Grande’s calmness is his best trait.
“My calmness come naturally,” added Grande. “I never really get stressed out about anything, so in a big game, I’m able to stay calm.”
That ability, and the talent to stop pucks has made an admirer from even the team who has seen them the most.
“Jason has terrified teams for four years,” said Downingtown East coach Dave Hendricks. “Jason can steal a game, something so few goalies in the league can do. You have to game plan to beat Jason.”
His hockey evolution started early by chance at a Flyers between-periods staple.
“We were playing Mites on Ice at a Flyers game and they needed a goalie and they asked me to play.”
“I had him since he first started playing as a 6-year-old,” said Russo. “He was a man then and he’s a man now.”
Grande cites Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price as someones he admires and tries to model his game after.
He will go to play junior hockey after he graduates from Rustin.
“His work of art speaks for itself,” said Russo. “He’s our engine. He never fails, never flinched or faltered.”