PRINCETON, N.J. – Joe Grabwoski grew up 15 minutes away from Princeton. When he was younger, he’d hang out around the town, and even went to a hockey game when he was around seven.
On Saturday, the Lawrenceville, N.J. native, returned close to home as Princeton defeated Cornell in its home opener.
Grabowski’s whole family was watching.
“I just tried to play my regular game, stay under control and not let the nerves get to me too much,” Grabowski said. “Just play like any ordinary hockey game I’ve played before in the past.”
Since the season started, Grabowski has been one of two freshman defenseman who’s played each night. In the season opener, Grabowski was entrusted with special teams and even saw 5-on-3 penalty killing duty before opening weekend finished.
“That’s really big,” Grabowski said. “It’s a good confidence builder. Playing any sort of special teams is always really exciting.
“It’s nice to know that the coaches have that faith in me to be able to go out there and take care of the job.”
Grabowski has continued appearing in those roles, and played on the penalty kill when Princeton went 5-for-5 in the win over Cornell. The freshman, who’s played in every game this season, has seen the team’s improvement since last Sunday’s 6-1 loss to Merrimack.
“We’re working on our systems,” Grabowski said. “Getting into this new system is tough, always with a new coach, new team. But I think we’re adjusting well and as each week progresses we’re going to get that much closer.”
After starting the season paired up with Kevin Liss, Grabowski has spent the past two contests playing with fellow New Jersey native Tommy Davis.
“He’s a good, young player,” Davis said of Grabowski last Sunday. “He has his head up all get and he likes to throw his body, moves the puck well, so it was easy to play with him.”
As a local, Grabowski grew up playing with teams in the area. He played for the Mercer Chiefs and then spent four years with the New Jersey Rockets. After getting cut from several USHL teams, Grabowski ended up with the Amarillo Bulls and helped them win the NAHL championship in 2012-13.
The 20-year-old played his first collegiate game at the Prudential Center, the arena of the team he grew up rooting for.
“That was really cool,” Grabowski said. “That was exciting to play on that ice and hopefully sometime in the future I’ll play there again, hopefully at a professional level. It was really nice, a really good atmosphere, it was a good tournament.”