December 9, 2013

Skating Around The Globe

By Barrett Holden
Special to GoHolyCross.com

Junior Nicole Giannino (Bay Shore, N.Y.) or "Gino" as she is known to friends and family has been a huge part of the success of the Holy Cross women's ice hockey team the past two plus seasons, but when she isn't skating with the Crusaders Giannino is representing the United States as a member of the women's inline hockey team. Giannino was the youngest player to ever make the national team in 2010, at the age of only 15. Since then Giannino has competed in four World Championships earning two gold medals, a silver medal and a bronze medal.

Giannino's 21 points, on 11 goals and 10 assists, through her first two seasons with the Crusaders speak to her mastery of the ice but her hockey career began on wheels rather than blades. At the age of 11, Giannino first got into hockey almost accidentally as a result of helping out her brother. As she put it, "my brother got into inline hockey and after realizing he wasn't a great skater became a goalie. He needed someone to shoot on him in the yard for practice so I started by doing that. I would also always go to his games and watch him play until one day my dad offered me money if I would try stepping on the inline rink and playing myself and from there I just kept playing." After a little more than a year of playing inline hockey, Giannino began playing ice hockey as well. Her career took off quickly and at the age of 13 she became the youngest player to ever compete in the Empire State Games.

After a successful youth career Giannino attended high school and played hockey at the National Sports Academy in Lake Placid, N.Y.  "NSA was one of the best experiences of my life," said Giannino. "We would get up every morning and have practice on the same rink where the 1980 Olympic team pulled off the miracle on ice. Playing on that rink was such a cool and unique experience."  It was during her time at the National Sports Academy that Giannino made her first appearance with Team USA in the 2010 inline hockey World Championship. At the age of just 15, she and the national team competed in Beroun, Czech Republic against the best teams in the world. Giannino remembers how strange it was being just 15 years old and competing at the highest level with teammates who were for the most part married adults. Team USA ended up finishing with the bronze medal in Beroun.

In 2011 Giannino again competed for Team USA at the World Championship in Roccarosa, Italy. Team USA won the gold medal against its biggest rival Canada by netting the game winning goal with just two tenths of a second left on the clock. "It was a shot from the point that hit behind the net bounced out and the goalie was on the complete other side," recalled Giannino. "Everyone thought the game was over and we stuffed it in the back door to win the game." The following year at the World Championship in Bucaramanga, Colombia the rivalry between Team USA and Canada again culminated in a show down for the gold medal. Unfortunately team USA and Giannino fell 4-2 to Canada and received the silver medal.

In 2013 the United States hosted the World Championship in Southern California. "It was amazing to play at home," said Giannino. "To play in front of our home crowd and have everyone rooting for us was really special and we got to win the gold medal in front of those fans." The US defeated Canada, to win the gold medal, by a score of 2-1 with the game winning goal coming with just under two minutes remaining in the game. While Canada and the United States have won gold and silver the past three years, Giannino has been amazed at how much the sport has grown. "Teams like India and China who struggled my first year have improved dramatically," said Giannino. "Each year the sport is growing."

Winning the Gold Medal in 2013

While the medals and awards are nice what Giannino really has appreciated about her time with Team USA is being able to travel the world, meet new people and experience new things all while doing what she loves to do. "I just want to talk to everyone from the different countries," said Giannino. "I'll try and speak Spanish with the team from Spain, and they'll laugh at me but we can all connect through hockey." She really appreciates how lucky she is that inline hockey has given her the opportunity to have such amazing experiences.  

Giannino has loved her time playing at Holy Cross thanks in large part to her great coaches and teammates and is confident and excited about the team's outlook for this year. With two years left at Holy Cross it has begun to sink in that her career on the ice is most likely coming to an end soon but she knows inline hockey offers her the opportunity to continue playing the sport she loves. She looks forward to playing in the 2014 World Championship in Paris and continuing to play for Team USA for many years to come. "Someday I'd like to be a captain and a leader of the team," said Giannino. "I want to be a mentor and a role model for some 15 or 16 year old kid in the same way my teammates were to me when I started playing." Giannino is thankful for how her teammates helped her during the college selection process and hopes to be able to give back to her teammates in the future. She summed it up nicely when she said, "I just want to keep having these amazing experiences that I've had playing hockey and I want to help other people have the same experience."