Ice Hockey

Greco adds confidence to veteran leadership, finds form as second-line forward

Before the 2007 New York State Under-16 finals, Scott Welch told his Buffalo Bisons the opposing goalie had a short temper. If they could get a chance to poke at the goalie and get under her skin, they should.

They succeeded.

As the first shift tumbled to a halt in a goalmouth scramble, Jacquie Greco took off from the blue line. With a 30-foot head start, she leveled the netminder. The goalie snapped, chaos followed, the Bisons scored twice on the ensuing 5-on-3 power play and ran out to a 5-2 championship victory.

“‘I wanted to make sure I got a good shot in,’” Welch said Greco told him after the game.

Though often through less violent means, Welch said Greco has gladly done whatever is asked of her for the team’s sake since he started coaching her as a 12-year-old. Her teammates echoed that sentiment: She’ll do whatever it takes to help Syracuse win.

Whether it’s scrapping along the boards, manning the defense or playing third- and fourth-line scrap minutes, the Orange’s captain is up for it. She is not an especially skilled player by her own admission, but she sees the ice well and out-muscles and out-skates her opponents.

Still, for much of Greco’s four-year career, helping her teammates has meant sitting down and cheering on.

Last season, she served as assistant captain and sat out for four or five entire games, according to head coach Paul Flanagan. This year, she’s a full captain, but began the season eating up reserve defenseman minutes. After the loss of star freshman Laurie Kingsbury to a concussion, though, Flanagan shuffled through his utility defenders and forwards – Greco is both – trying to plug the gaping hole on his second forward line.

“Pretty much every year he’s threw me up at forward,” Greco said. “I think this year’s a little different because I am a little more confident in myself and I – maybe if our team’s not scoring, there’s my opportunity to be the one to score.”

Greco has built on the upbeat leadership that’s transcended her playing time, or lack thereof, and rejuvenated the Orange’s at-times-temperamental attack. She started to heat up before the semester break with a pair of goals in SU’s 4-3 upset of defending College Hockey America champs Robert Morris on Dec. 1, and a go-ahead assist to Allie LaCombe in the second period of an eventual 4-3 loss to then-No. 2 Clarkson on Dec. 8.

At the end of the Orange’s game against Colgate on Jan. 8, Greco finally cleaned up a goalmouth scramble to cap SU’s 6-0 win. Freshman forward Melissa Piacentini assisted on the goal. And in the build-up to the team’s road trip to then-No. 7 Mercyhurst, Greco completed Piacentini and Shiann Darkangelo’s forward line.

“’Tini’s really quiet but she can get in the corners and she can dig up the puck and she’ll be there in front of the net to put away the goals,” Greco said. “And you know, Shi’s a really good playmaker. If I yell for the puck and I’m open she’ll get it to me, I know she will, and vice-versa.

“ … We kind of know that we’re open, we know where to support each other.”

Piacentini assisted on Greco’s second-period goal against the Lakers. And watching from the stands at the Mercyhurst Ice Center in Erie, Pa., was Welch.

He saw the same flexible, insightful and, when necessary, ruthless player he coached to five state titles from Under-12s to Under-19s.

“She’s kind of that rough-and-tumble type of player where there’s no finesse about her,” Welch said. “She’s going to go from point A to point B and if you happen to be in the way she was going to go right through you.”

Three days later, with her linemates furious and her team trailing 3-0 at then-No. 4 Cornell, a Darkangelo shot from just under the point bounced off Greco, working the crease, and went in. Small consolation in an 8-1 defeat, but an effort that typified her importance to the Orange as its postseason fate hangs in the balance.

Last week, Flanagan reflected on his team’s fleeting ability to let go, play on instinct and create and finish chances in crucial moments.

“As an athlete you have that little flash,” Flanagan said. “You got to react to that.”

When asked if pestering the crease and scoring accidental goals counted as “being in the flash,” Flanagan smiled, recalling Greco’s goal 19 hours removed from the 8-1 loss.

“Sometimes,” he said. “Hey, it’s just a matter of being in the right place at the right time.”

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