Spitfires' never forgot Graniero's loyalty as local product makes OHL debut.Windsor Spitfires’ general manager Bill Bowler never forgot the loyalty and sacrifice shown by LaSalle’s Nick Graniero. A year ago, when the Spitfires were short of players for exhibition play, Graniero gave up any hope of an NCAA scholarship. He opted to suit up for Windsor knowing he likely wouldn’t have a full-time spot on a strong roster that eventually went to the league final.
Now, with the Spitfires without veterans Ryan Abraham and Thomas Johnston due to injuries, it was the 18-year-old Graniero that Bowler brought up from the club’s junior B LaSalle Vipers affiliate to play on Thursday against the Oshawa Generals at the WFCU Centre.
“ Last year during exhibition, we had guys step up and play games,” Bowler said. “Nick was one and Jackson (McLlwain) another. There was no education package, just a chance to play.”
It was in his second exhibition game with the Spitfires last season that Graniero suffered a broken hand that delayed his start of the season with the Vipers.
“It was an unfortunate injury and that’s why he probably didn’t get a chance to play (a regular-season game for the Spitfires) last year,” Bowler said. “That’s the beauty of a good affiliate relationship. We kept watching.”
Graniero had less than 24 hours to prepare for his debut with the Spitfires.
“Bill called my mom and dad (Wednesday) and told them to keep it a secret,” Graniero said. “I had a game with the Vipers against Leamington and after the game my head coach, Matt Beaudoin, was like, ‘I’ve got some news here. Nick Graniero is getting his first OHL debut game (Thursday) with the Spits.’ That’s when I found out.”
A product of the Windsor Jr. Spitfires minor midget program, Graniero went undrafted after the 2019-20 season, which was cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“In the moment, kind of younger, it hurts right in the moment,” Graniero said. “Nothing I could do about it, thought about it for the bit and then you just have to get back to playing and work hard.”
He jumped at the chance to go to camp with the Spitfires and never hesitated when the chance came to play in an exhibition game even though it ended any hopes for an NCAA scholarship.
“I’ve always wanted to play in the OHL,” Graniero said. “It’s been kind of like a dream of mine. I got the opportunity and didn’t really talk to anyone in that (NCAA) route anyway and kind of wanted to stay in Canada, too.
“So, I thought, why not and see what goes with it and it’s starting to pay off a little bit. Got my first regular-season game (Thursday).”
While the Spitfires were in Kitchener to face the Rangers on Friday, Graniero was back with the Vipers for a key road game in St. Marys.
“I think we’re just trying to work guys in here,” said Spitfires’ head coach Marc Savard, who also has Ethan Martin and McLlwain available by call up. “We’re just kind of moving guys around and we’ll see what we have for Saturday (against Barrie).”
With two suites filled with family and friends at Thursday’s game along with countless supporters in the stands, it wasn’t hard to miss a shift when Graniero hit the ice.
“Going out, all the fans, the music, the Jumbotron and the lights, it’s pretty cool,” Graniero said. “You try to stay as calm as possible, but you can only do so much.
“You get out there and just get into the game and get a feel for it. I’m the type of player that doesn’t get to the higher level from his skill as much, but more how hard he works. I went out there and did just that, hit a couple guys and was on for a goal, so that was nice to get a little plus in there.”
It’s exactly what the Spitfires needed as the club snapped a three-game losing streak with a 7-2 win over the Oshawa and waits for veteran help to return.
“He’s a good grinder and penalty kill guy with the Vipers,” Savard said of Graniero. “I thought he had some good shifts.
“Just a good, honest, hardworking kid and you can pop him in and feel comfortable that he’s going to give you everything he’s got when he gets out there.”
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