Regina Cecconi remembers the first week she took her son, Joe, to an instructional hockey program at Niagara University. He was 4 years old, and she wasn’t quite ready to commit herself to the busy life of a hockey mom.
“I said, ‘Oh my gosh, if they think I’m going to start all my weekends at the ice rink, they’re crazy,’” Cecconi said.
Within two years, Cecconi was serving in all sorts of capacities – manager, travel president and other notable roles – for Joe’s teams, putting about 25,000 miles a year on her car. She eventually spent five or six nights a week at the rink.
“I was all in,” Cecconi said. “I loved it. I enjoyed it.”
So did Joe, a Youngstown native who developed into one of Western New York’s top prospects. The 18-year-old defenseman, fresh off his first full season in the junior United States Hockey League, could be a fourth- or fifth-round pick Saturday at the NHL Draft in Sunrise, Fla. Cecconi finished 2014-15 as NHL Central Scouting’s No. 88 North American prospect among draft-eligible skaters.
“I’m excited about the whole process, but it’s going to be a little nerve-racking sitting down waiting for my name to be called,” Joe Cecconi said about the draft.
Cecconi will have plenty of support inside the BB&T Center. His mother, who will be beside him with his father and grandfather, said she’ll probably cry when her son’s name is called.
And just like the All-American Prospects Game in September, when his supporters wore special neon green shirts and brought giant cutouts of his head to the First Niagara Center, Cecconi will have his own cheering section. About 15 family and friends are making the trip.
The gaudy shirts and heads are likely staying at home, however.
“They’re going to be dressed a little more appropriate for the venue,” Joe Cecconi said.
Cecconi has already achieved one of his mother’s dreams. He’ll begin his freshman year at the University of Michigan next week. He plans to take two classes this summer to get acclimated to college before the hockey season starts.
“I always hoped that he would at least be able to apply for college, use that as an entry and help financially with the college tuition and his education, and that’s pretty much what I said all the time,” Regina Cecconi said. “Anything over that would be icing. But he has always been very determined and focused. This is what he wanted to do and where he wanted to go. He worked very hard over the years.”
Joe Cecconi understands getting drafted would be just one hurdle in his career.
“I haven’t done anything yet,” he said. “The next goal is to sign an NHL contract.”
Cecconi left the Buffalo Jr. Sabres midway through 2013-14 and joined the USHL. A strong season with the Muskegon Fury helped Cecconi secure his prospect status. He enjoyed a regular role last season, compiling three goals and 17 points in 60 games. The Fury eventually got swept in league final.
“I’m a two-way defenseman,” Cecconi said. “I take pride in my D-zone more than the offensive zone. I really like playing defense.”
The 6-foot-3, 209-pound Cecconi said he has spoken to about seven or 10 NHL teams. He didn’t talk to the Sabres, however.
Dan Marr, the director of Central Scouting, is a “fan” of Cecconi’s and wanted him to be showcased in the All-American Prospects game.
“I wouldn’t call Joe an offensive defenseman,” Marr said. “But he’s one of these solid two-way defensemen that’s comfortable with the puck on his stick. He’s not in a hurry just to get it off the glass or off the boards. He’s comfortable with the puck on his stick, but he’s got a good sense not to get to try to do too much. He knows his capabilities with the puck, and I like to see that in a young player. He’s got size, strength, he’s athletic. I think he’s a pretty good package for a two-way player.”
He added: “Whoever drafts Joe this year is going to be pleasantly surprised with the year he has next year.”