By Warren Kozireski —
When defenseman Nick Grupp was a freshman at SUNY Cortland, the Red Dragons finished with a 5-11 conference record and out of the SUNYAC playoffs. Following the cancelled 2020-21 campaign, they finished fourth to earn its first SUNYAC tournament appearance since 2008 and hosted a conference tournament game for the first time since 2002.
And now this season, with Grupp as captain, the Red Dragons are again in the mix for a first round home playoff game. They had already clinched a playoff spot.
“It’s (being captain) is a big honor; it shows that a lot of guys look up to you,” Grupp said in late-January. “You really don’t want to change who you are as a person, you just want to enhance that and put everything together.”
“He’s very charismatic and that goes a long way with this team in establishing our identity,” Cortland head coach Joe Carderelli said about Grupp. “Nick’s actually too strong for Division III hockey; he’s gotten penalties because he just beats up guys. He’s curtailed that, he’s understood the game more…and we certainly look to him for the intangibles.”
Grupp scored three goals over the first 44 games of his collegiate career, but this year already has five and has set a career-high with 15 points.
“We started to realize that we had to start contributing more on the back end, even if it’s just on offense and it’s been working for us.
Coming out of the Lockport Express program, Grupp played a year-and-a-half with the Buffalo Jr. Sabres before being traded to Brantford in the Ontario Provincial Hockey League.
“I kind of liked the OJ, also I had a previous teammate who was playing on the 99ers team, so it was nice to have a familiar face on the team and I just felt like it would be a good fit. I talked with the GM there and he really wanted me to come; had a really good rest of my season there and got recruited to come here.”
At 6’2” and 204 lb. Grupp is one of the larger players in Division III, but has tempered his penalty minutes a bit of late. But his leadership is clearly playing well both on the ice and in the Red Dragons locker room.
“I get a couple calls (penalties) that maybe shouldn’t have been a call, but it’s hockey so you just do your two minutes and get back out there.
“I’m not going to stop playing how I play. If I get called for hitting too hard, I get called for hitting too hard—it is what it is. “
(Photos by Dari Zehr Photography)