CEDAR RAPIDS — They were playing Xbox online against one another the other day.
Dalton Messina was in Cedar Rapids, Nick Granowicz in Topeka, Kan. That was where their respective junior hockey clubs were located.
Longtime friends from the Detroit suburb of Macomb, Mich., they’ve grown up playing with each other and against each other.
“The past three summers, I think I’ve spent a total of about five days away from him,” Messina said. “He’s one of my closest friends.”
The Cedar Rapids RoughRiders captain casually slipped his buddy a message in this instance. He knew his team was very short-handed at forward because of injuries, and that RoughRiders Coach/General Manager Mark Carlson was looking for help.
Granowicz was leading the North American Hockey League, considered a notch below the United States Hockey League, in scoring. It seemed a perfect match.
“I kind of figured since we were so depleted, and he was doing so well, Coach was probably going to give him a call,” Messina said. “We were playing Xbox, and I just kind of said ‘Hey, what would you do if Coach calls you?’ Turned out he was going to talk to Coach later that day, and he asked me what I thought, that kind of thing.”
Messina encouraged Granowicz to make the jump, which he did. His first practice with the Riders was Tuesday, he scored a goal in his debut Friday night at Dubuque and played well in a 4-2 loss Saturday night to Sioux Falls at the Cedar Rapids Ice Arena.
This appears to be a positive addition.
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“When I heard about the opportunity, I was excited,” Granowicz said. “I thought it would be a good move to push myself harder. To play at a higher level would be good for me.”
The 19-year-old had 12 goals and 30 points in 25 games for the Topeka Scarecrows, significantly better production than a season ago, when he had seven goals and 24 points in 59 games. He is a much better hockey player.
“In the summer, I trained a lot, worked on my shot, my stick handling. I worked out a ton,” Granowicz said. “I tried to work on my game in all areas the best I could. It helped me out this season. It was nice to get success off that (work).”
Granowicz and Messina have the same local billet family, which is very cool. Messina is on the injured list but hopes to get back into the lineup soon.
Cedar Rapids (7-9-1, 15 standings points) rallied from a 2-0 hole with second-period goals by Nathan Smith and Marek Valach, but Sioux Falls got a go-ahead goal from Jaxon Nelson with 8:20 to go. The University of Minnesota commit added another marker six minutes later to put the game away.
“It was a game that could have gone either way,” Granowicz said. “I think they pushed a little harder there at the end of the third. We played hard trying to get a win, but it just didn’t come our way.”
Cedar Rapids scratched forward Messina, Spencer DenBeste and Marc McLaughlin because of various injuries. Forwards Jason Polin and T.J. Walsh remain on the injured reserve list.
The RoughRiders have a game Tuesday night at Green Bay, returning home Friday night against Chicago and the following night against Dubuque.
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