Growing up with a dad who played professional hockey, you would think it would have been love at first ice. That wasn’t the case for Jonathan Gruden.
“The first time on the ice I didn’t really like it,” he said. “Then I tried it a year later and loved it. I’ve loved it ever since.”
Gruden was all of four-years-old when he fell in love with the ice and playing hockey, something that’s worked out considerably well for the Rochester native.
Starting with his most recent highlight, Gruden was drafted to the Ottawa Senators in the fourth round, 95th overall, of this year’s National Hockey League draft.
He had recently returned from development camp when we spoke. The excitement from being selected to play professional hockey was still there.
“It was a great feeling,” said Gruden about being selected. “It’s what you work for your whole life, and being with all your family and friends was a really special feeling.”
Gruden won’t go directly to the NHL in the fall though. He will be studying sports management at Miami University, where he will continue playing forward for their 2018-2019 season.
He said since he’s been drafted already, the Senators will follow his development during his time at Miami University.
Before then, though, Miami University will have some big shoes to fill in regard to Gruden’s hockey career. He’s spent the last two seasons as a part of USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program, which he described as some of the best years of his life thus far.
“They develop you into the person and player you are today. Without my time there I don’t think that I would be where I am today,” he said. “It was a great time with the guys there, playing hockey every day. It was a lot of fun.”
Gruden was also able to go out on a high-note with the team.
This year they won the 2018 Under-18 Five Nations Tournament. The tournament took place on their home ice in Plymouth.
“It gave us a little bit of confidence just knowing we could compete with the top teams in the world,” he said.
That confidence boost was helpful when they played in this year’s International Ice Hockey Federation Under-18 Men's World Championship in Chelyabinsk and Magnitogorsk, Russia.
They ultimately collected silver in that tournament and a lifetime of memories.
“None of us had been there before,” Gruden said. “The whole atmosphere there is a little different, like the people and the food. It was a bit of a change for all of us, but we adapted really well – it was a really good time there.”
Those two moments are not his favorite during his hockey career though. That would be winning the national championship with his 14U HoneyBaked team.
Gruden said that’s probably his favorite moment from hockey because of the friendships he made while on that team. He still talks to most of those guys to this day.
Forming those kind of lifelong bonds – on and off the ice – is one of the reasons Gruden likes hockey so much.
Being that good teammate is something that his biggest hockey influence, his dad, taught him early on.
Now Gruden has some advice of his own to pass on.
“Have fun with it, work hard, and be a good teammate,” Gruden said.
Photo: Laurie Tennent