The whistles, calls to the bench, and line shifts come to a grinding halt in certain situations for the Saint Anselm College men’s hockey team.
If the Hawks have a one-goal lead and the puck is in their zone, Greg Crovo will be on the ice.
“If we have a penalty to kill that may win or lose a game for us, he’s the first to go out,” said Saint Anselm coach Ed Seney. “That’s what he brings to the table.”
The senior from Melrose is a backbone on the blue line, and his experience — as well as the trust that Seney has in him — reflect that.
Crovo entered this season as a cocaptain, his third straight year carrying the leadership mantle (he was an alternate his sophomore year). Dating back to his days as a Catholic Conference standout at Malden Catholic, he has always known what he’s best at on the ice.
“I think defense comes first for me because that’s how I grew up playing,” Crovo said. “I fell in love with it, and I think in order to play defense, you need to have a heart and passion for the game.”
At Malden Catholic, Crovo was a two-time Globe Super Team honoree in 2008 and 2009, with his steady play a big reason why the Lancers fortified themselves in the state’s toughest conference and reached their first Super 8 final in 2008.
As a senior, Crovo notched 1 goal and 12 assists as the Catholic Conference MVP.
“To be able to play at that level in high school was a huge advantage for me,” Crovo said. “There are some great offensive players in the Catholic Conference and it got me ready for what I’d be facing in college.”
The 5-foot-10, 170-pound Crovo then moved on to Northwood School in Lake Placid, N.Y., for an extra year of experience. Crovo was sold on playing at Northwood due to the variety and level of competition the program faces, including both junior and prep teams.
The number of watchful eyes on Crovo increased, including those of Seney, a Lake Placid native, who knew that Northwood played tournaments in New England as well. Seney, well aware of Crovo’s playing style, had a hole to fill on his roster.
“On a team, you need different guys who fit different pieces of the puzzle,” Seney said. “You can’t have 20 guys that are all the same. Greg competes hard. He’s consistent and leads by example. He talks to the younger guys in his own subtle way without screaming at people. If you don’t lead by example, it’s tough to be a leader.”
Hawks senior forward Joe Tebano is an offensive weapon (9 goals and 18 assists for 27 points last year, and 3-1-4 this year through six games). But even he realizes the importance of defense for Saint Anselm, which is attempting to win its fifth straight Northeast-10 Conference championship this season.
“We definitely have to win games with our defense, because we did lose so much offense [280 points] from last year,” Tebano said. “With Greg, he’s taken it upon himself as a defenseman to take the younger guys under his wing and bring them to his level.”
So far, the results have been frustrating. The Hawks lost three straight to start the season and only won their first game of the year on Saturday, a 6-3 victory at St. Michael’s. At 1-3-2, the team needs a spark.
“We may not be the offensive powerhouse we’ve been in years past, but we’re making strides,” Crovo said. “I think last week is a testament to that [the Hawks also recorded ties against Skidmore, 3-3, on Nov. 16, and Norwich, 2-2, on Nov. 22].”
For Crovo, the level of responsibility started when he was first approached in his team’s locker room as a sophomore and told he would be an alternate captain. This season, in likely his last competitive hockey season, the importance of team leadership is heightened.
“Coming into this season, there’s definitely more urgency,” Crovo explained. “You don’t want to be the team that loses the tradition of winning.”