When the local hockey scene first caught a glimpse of Michael Giampapa, the scrawny 14-year-old freshman answered yes or no questions as succintly as possible and piled up points in an unassuming manner.
Ridley coach Stephane Charbonneau trusted him beyond his years, though, and gave his young protégé the toughest checking assignments, none bigger than eventual two-time Daily Times Player of the Year Tyler Riddle of Springfield.
In the 2015 Central League Playoffs, Giampapa followed Riddle all over the ice, frustrating the Cougars’ star and helping the Green Raiders to an upset victory in the semifinals.
As a sophomore, Giampapa reversed course. He became the aggressor as well as the league’s best setup man, combining with All-Delco winger Nick Catona to form a lethal one-two punch. Giampapa finished with 53 assists, Catona 39 goals.
This season, Giampapa emerged once again with new skills, shot up a few inches and added physicality to his game.
For a Ridley team that didn’t shy away from finishing its checks, it was often Giampapa who set the tone. He also became a bonafide goal scorer, using his ever-growing arsenal and superior hockey mind to best opposing goalies and defensemen alike, all while retaining the defensive responsibilities he learned as an underclassmen.
“Here’s what’s most important for Michael: There’s no night off for him,” said Charbonneau. “He doesn’t cheat. He’s the whole package.”
Giampapa delivered 29 goals to go with 35 assists this season — his second straight campaign with 60-plus points.
Three years, three distinct roles, one terrific player.
“It all comes from playing hockey for so long that I can adapt and do what Coach Steph tells me I have to do to help the team,” said Giampapa. “Freshman year, we had a lot of other goal-scorers. And then sophomore year, I think me and Nick just really connected. This year, I still had two great linemates. I just knew I had to score more goals.”
In the deepest season talent-wise in memory, the Ridley junior separated himself from a crowd of worthy candidates. Giampapa is the 2017 Daily Times Player of the Year.
Joining Giampapa on the first team are forwards Shane Moran of Haverford High and Liam McCanney of Cardinal O’Hara; defensemen Nate Dunning of Ridley and Haverford’s Marcus DiPrimio. Calin Losacco, who backstopped Springfield to the Central League title, is the goaltender, while Radnor’s Clayton Proctor completes the team as both a defenseman and center. Giampapa, Moran and Dunning return to the First Team.
The All-Delco teams are selected by the Daily Times staff with consultation from county coaches.
Giampapa’s wonderful season came to end prematurely. He got tangled up during a flurry at the side of the Springfield goal during the Central League semifinals — which the Cougars won, 3-2 in overtime — and went crashing into the boards. The official diagnosis was a trapezium sprain, a rather significant shoulder injury. Giampapa didn’t leave the rink, though. Instead he stayed, endured the pain, and watched his team suffer a heartbreaking defeat.
“I didn’t want to talk to the trainer,” Giampapa said. “I wanted to win the championship. There were tears coming from my eyes, not because I was hurt, but because I couldn’t go out there and fight with the boys.”
Springfield’s Kevin Brown and co-captain James Spence, among others, paused their celebrations to shake Giampapa’s hand outside the locker room. The gesture showed the kind of respect his opponents — and considering his candidacy for player of the year, opposing coaches — have for Giampapa.
That’s important to note when assessing how Ridley closed 2017: With a now infamous brawl in the Flyers Cup against Central Bucks West. The game, 7-1 midway through the third period, was suspended. Four Ridley players received fighting majors, fans attempted to reach the ice, local police showed up and one Central Bucks West player went to the hospital. To make matters worse, the whole incident was captured on camera and quickly went viral.
“As a spectator, I could kind of see something starting,” recalled Giampapa. “There were some cheap hits on both ends that just led up to it.”
No official punishments have been handed out as of this writing, but Ridley has already suffered in the court of public opinion. Giampapa is mindful of his program’s reputation, and he’s doing his best to offset it.
“I always make sure I’m respectful,” he said. “When I’m respectful, (people) think back to the bad rep of Ridley and maybe change their mind about that.”
Charbonneau has relied heavily on Giampapa for the last three years and may need him more in the coming months.
“He’s a good leader,” Charbonneau said. “He’s a quiet leader. When Mike goes, the team goes.”
That was evident throughout 2017. Giampapa, a captain, had a habit of showing up in the Raiders’ tightest moments. Two goals in particular stand out. Against Penncrest in early February with the score tied, Giampapa took a pass through the neutral zone, drove wide to his forehand and, with a flick of his wrist, fired a shot that beat All-Delco Second Teamer Mark Dumont to his near post. Ridley won the game 5-4. Giampapa had two goals and an assist.
“I love shooting short side high,” said Giampapa. “Goalies never expect that. They’re always covering the bottom of the post, and I always practice that (shot) and try to perfect that.”
The second trademark goal came in that semifinal against Springfield. Down one with less than two minutes to play in the first, Giampapa slipped the puck through the Cougars’ center’s legs on an offensive zone faceoff. He found the back of the net before Losacco could react.
“I try it every time I’m in the zone on that side,” said Giampapa. “A lot of times it doesn’t work. But if they don’t have a defense lined up outside of the crease on the faceoff circle, then I can pull it off.”
Both plays illustrate Giampapa’s next level thinking. He plays off trends and expectation. He knows opponents’ tendencies. He’s a student of the game.
“He’s complete. If I ask him to go left, he goes left. If I ask him to go right, he goes right. He listens,” said Charbonneau. “That’s what coaches want at any level. He’s got a good chance to move on in hockey.”
Giampapa is planning on doing just that. Under the tutelage of both Charbonneau and club coach Jimmy Watson — both former NHL players — he will try out for a selection of junior teams this spring. If all goes well, it will likely close Giampapa’s Ridley career, which was helped greatly by his family. His older brother Steven and sister Amanda both played for the Green Raiders, while his father, also Steven, serves as a Ridley assistant.
If this is indeed the end for Giampapa in green and white, what a legacy he leaves.