No surprise that Jordan Greenway found his way to hockey. He grew up in Canton, N.Y., with hockey-crazed Ontario in his backyard, and with local Division 1 programs at St. Lawrence and Clarkson (short drive up Route 11) dominating the sports conversation throughout the 12 months of winter in upper-state New York.
“You really can’t go 5 miles without seeing a rink around there,’’ said Greenway this week, following a workout with his playoff-bound Boston University Terriers. “As a kid, I went to all of them. Wherever there was open ice, I was there.’’
These days, there is an increasing amount of open ice, and scoring chances, whenever Greenway rolls over the boards for the Terriers. A 6-foot-5-inch, 225-pound freshman left winger, he was promoted to BU’s top line just two weeks ago and has continued to find abundant success skating with fellow frosh Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson at center and senior Danny O’Regan at right wing.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Again, we’re talking about a 6-5, 225-pound freshman, who only recently turned 19, who looks as if he’ll fill out to 240 or 245, and who might post up on off days for the Terriers’ basketball team.
“He is such a freak athlete,’’ noted hockey coach David Quinn, his squad set to face UMass Friday in the opening round of the Hockey East tournament. “I joke all the time, if he was a football player, he would be a five-star tight end at Alabama or Notre Dame.’’
Truth is, football once held an interest for both Greenway and his brother, J.D., who is one year younger and has hopes of joining the BU roster next year. Both Greenway boys played football and lacrosse as kids, but ultimately hockey won out, with J.D. following his brother to Shattuck St. Mary’s (Faribault, Minn.) and later to the US National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor, Mich.
“Hockey was just the thing,’’ said Greenway, who moved from Canton to Shattuck at age 14 to pursue his dream. “I think I just always liked it best, too, and that helps, obviously. I was a rink rat. I liked being at the rink so much, and using a stick and puck instead of a ball.’’
With the speedy, towering Greenway plugged into left wing, BU’s No. 1 line has collected 4 goals and 13 points over the last four games. Greenway started slowly, with only a pair of assists to show by Thanksgiving, but has remained on a point-per-game tear (5-16—21) over the last 21 games.
“He’s been one of the best players in [Hockey East] these last 2-3 weeks,’’ said O’Regan, the former St. Sebastian’s standout from Needham and a 2012 draft pick of the San Jose Sharks.
“I think he has contributed a little bit of puck protection,’’ added Forsbacka Karlsson, who was selected by the Bruins last year in the second round of the draft. “In the offensive zone, he can protect the puck very well and find either me or Danny — that’s something good for us.’’
Also drafted in the second round last June, No. 50 overall by the Minnesota Wild, Greenway has become a slightly more straight-line player, using his speed to fire straight up the wing, noted Quinn, rather than waste time and energy with crossovers and side steps.
Once in the offensive zone, where he can dominate around the net with his size, Greenway’s athleticism is obvious and even somewhat alarming. For such a big guy, he is nimble and quick, showing the dexterity and stick skill more typical of smaller, more compact wingers.
“Usually guys that size, you think, ‘Oh, boy, wait until his coordination catches up with his size, he’ll be a great player,’ ’’ said Quinn. “Well, he’s already got it. The physical tools are all there.’’
It’s a skill set, Quinn believes, that eventually will convince the Wild to shift Greenway to center. It’s far more typical of a college center to shift to wing in the pro game, the demands of playing the pivot far greater with all of its defensive responsibilities.
Quinn is impressed, too, by Greenway’s low center of gravity, his ability to play in a tucked, crouched position, also not easy for bigger players.
“Heck, I should put him in the middle because of the way he skates, his vision,” said the coach. “I think he would be a phenomenal center.’’
Quinn is also happy to say that Greenway is among the brightest, happiest players he has coached at BU. He comes to practice each day with a smile on his face, then goes about the hard work that translates into something else on the faces of opponents.
“It’s to the point now, every time the whistle blows, five guys on the other team are thinking, ‘Where the hell is Greenway?’ ’’ said Quinn. “We talk about that as a team: ‘Who are you making mad out there? Your job is to make them mad.’
“I don’t want guys on the other team tapping our guys on the shin pads and saying, ‘Hey, nice shift,’ you know? And Jordan’s turned into that player. I mean, in the Beanpot final, after every whistle, every BC kid was saying, ‘Where the hell is Greenway?’ ’’
The easy answer: first line, left wing. For now. How much longer is anyone’s guess.
Asked if he thinks Greenway will play the full four years at BU before turning pro, Quinn said with a laugh, “Probably not.
“This day and age, I think probably we keep him maybe for three years and then drive him to the airport — reluctantly. A happy day for him, but a sad day for us.’’