Finding a New Start

Finding a New Start

Ryan Thomas

They’re both sitting on the vintage-looking maroon couch in the cramped hockey office next to the ice rink at UMass Boston. Just off the ice, they’re wearing the usual college athletic apparel: sweatshirts, sweatpants, sneakers. The one on the right with “the big shot” is wearing a brown hat with a small brim. The Mighty Ducks movie is brought up, and, quickly, the two differentiate each other, explaining who’s who in terms of the Disney classic’s famed duo, the “bash brothers.”

Rocco Dabecco, the smaller, more chiseled of the two, quickly determines why his teammate, roommate and fellow bash brother, Kris Kranzky, would be the dynamic, hard-hitting, slap-shot-happy Fulton Reed. “He’s got the big shot,” Rocco says, laughing with his close friend. “He has an absolute bomb.”

Kris quickly retorts why Rocco would be Dean Porter, the other half of the Disney duo that filled the big screen with antics and hockey hilarity. “You’re more of a rock head, like a muscle guy,” he says.

Anyone who’s seen the Mighty Ducks movies knows how close Fulton Reed and Dean Porter are in them. They would do anything for each other; protect the other at any cost, like a brother. Kris and Rocco’s case isn’t all that different. They transferred schools together. Their lives may have started on different coasts – Kris is from Glendora, California, Rocco from South Park, Pennsylvania – but they converged at a small school in south central Massachusetts, only minutes from the Connecticut and Rhode Island borders.

Nichols College is in Dudley, Massachusetts, a predominantly blue-collar suburban town with a population of about 10,000 people. With poultry and dairy farms still in the forefront of the town’s existence, Dudley is not a college student’s dream. The private, four-year college boasts impressive stats and facts about its graduation rates and post-grad employment successes, but these numbers were not what drew Kris and Rocco to the cozy college. They just wanted to play hockey, but “it felt like you were still in high school,” Rocco says, the atmosphere still clear in his mind. “We met some nice people, but, all in all, it wasn’t what I was looking for when I thought I was in college.”

Perhaps it was the single road leading into and out of the College, or the low enrollment number (1,459 students). Maybe it was due to the fact that their team, the Bison, had to travel over twenty minutes every day to Pomfret School, a college preparatory school in Connecticut, to practice and play their games. “We didn’t have a locker room; we had to bag our stuff back and forth,” Rocco remembers. “You just didn’t feel like a college athlete,” Kris adds, explaining how taxing it was to travel back and forth every day with “no fan support” and no “special privileges, like your own rink.”

Adding to their frustration was the lack of satisfaction they got from their coach at Nichols. Both Dabecco and Kranzky were unhappy with the lack of on-ice knowledge that head coach Lou Izzi provided. them with. The two were adamant about their realization that Izzi had a wealth of book knowledge when it came to the game of hockey, but his on-ice and in-game experiences were lacking, only adding to their already jaded experience.

After having a very good rookie campaign for the Bison in 2005-06, Rocco (9 goals, 19 assists in 27 games) met Kris the following season and became friends with him, both on and off the ice. As they became better friends, thoughts of what else was out there for them began to arise. They weren’t happy at school, their hockey experience was souring by the day, and they needed a fresh start. That fresh start would appear in the form of current UMass Boston assistant coach and recruiter, Jeff Pellegrini. For three years, Jeff was assistant coach at Nichols College but after the 2005-06 season, Pellegrini and Nichols College parted ways, allowing Jeff to coach under Peter Belisle and become the recruiter for the men’s hockey program.

Pellegrini learned from a friend that Kris was unhappy at Nichols and decided to invite him to tour UMass Boston. Right away, Kris was in love with the campus. “[Jeff] told me about how [UMass Boston had] their own facility,” says Kris. “The thing that sealed it was the visit. I just loved everything about the school. [Jeff] took me on a tour and I saw the beautiful new campus center. I felt like I was at an actual college, instead of at a high school.”

Kris’s mother, Sandi Kranzky, who lives almost 3,000 miles away, explained why Kris ultimately chose UMass Boston over Nichols. “He wanted more out of school, so he looked into UMass [Boston], which was a complete dream for him. He knew that [head] coach [Peter] Belisle was a very well-known hockey coach on the East coast, and knew he would learn so much more there. I … hate having him being so far from home, but I know he is following his dream, and that is really what I want for him.”

Kris was so excited about the opportunities at UMass Boston that right away he started talking to friend and teammate Rocco about transferring with him. Rocco wasn’t sure right away what he wanted to do, but after a visit, he, too, was wooed by UMass Boston’s campus. “Jeff actually … recruited me there [Nichols]. So when I found out that [Kris] was looking at the school, I initially didn’t have intentions of transferring. I didn’t really like Nichols, but I was kind of complacent. Then I came and I visited the school and all the facilities,” Rocco remembers. “The coaching staff and the people that worked there seemed phenomenal.” After filling out the necessary paper work, both Kris and Rocco were on their way to completing their season and their semester at UMass Boston. “It was … surreal,” he said, remembering how it felt for him to be somewhere special. “I finally felt like college athlete.”

Once on the ice at UMass Boston, Kris and Rocco fit in right away. In the 17 remaining games, Rocco (2 goals, 14 assists) was a facilitator, making plays in the offensive zone, and Kris was a constant offensive threat (6 goals, 7 assists), adding a huge, thunderous shot. Even though the Beacons finished last season 5-20-1, Rocco was blown away by the experiences. “Only playing a half a season [at UMass Boston], I know that [the coaches] made me a much better player than I was ever gonna be at Nichols.”

But after the Beacons’ last regular season game – in which Kranzky had a goal and two assists, and Dabecco racked up four assists – head coach Peter Belisle and UMass Boston were informed that Rocco and Kris had played too many games during the season. The penalty would come down as six-game suspensions for each player, starting with game one of the 2007-08 season.

Kris’s first reaction was disbelief. “I didn’t know how to react, and then it kind of turned into anger,” he says. Soon after though, Pete explained the situation with Kris and Rocco, understanding that no one was at fault, it was just a mistake.

Belisle knows what Rocco and Kris brought to his team last year, and he expects the same from them this year, once they return. “I don’t mean to put pressure on [Kris],” he says, “but I just think with his release, when you see this kid shoot the puck, you see how big and strong he is, you see how hard he works … he’s an animal.” Rocco, Belisle explains, is more of a multifunctional hockey player. “He gets points, he can kill penalties, he’s a work horse.” Getting down to the basics, Pete Belisle knows what he has with these two. “They’re both very good athletes, they take care of their bodies and they’re just specimens,” he says. “They’re jacked.”

Six games into the 2006-07 season, UMass Boston is doing exactly what Belisle wants them to: improve and win. The Beacons were 3-3-0 going into their game in Hartford, Connecticut, against Trinity College on December 1. Having won 8-4 the night before, UMass Boston was riding high, and Belisle thought his team was expecting Rocco and Kris to provide extra pop in their first game back. “[We were] looking to them to ignite something, and then when they go out and first shift’s a bad shift, second shift’s a bad shift, our team was like, ‘Wow, what happening?'” Belisle said after his team lost to Trinity 8-0. “These guys were rusty. They didn’t have their game legs.”

After the game, Kris apologized to Belisle for what he said was the worst game of his career and Rocco admitted to his coach that his legs felt like Jell-O. “They were terrible,” Belisle admitted, not sugar-coating it. “They were awful, and they’ll be the first ones to tell you. It looked like Rocco was skating in mud; Kris couldn’t get his shot off.” That’s one of the things that Rocco and Kris appreciate about their coach. “They keep pushing you,” Kris says. “Even if you’re the best player on the team, they’ll still get on your ass.”

Rocco couldn’t agree more with Kris’s assessment of the coaching staff. “I love the fact that coach Belisle will – even if you’re the best player on team, if you’re having an off night – he will be the first one to put you in the stands. He won’t sugarcoat it; he’ll tell you exactly what you did wrong,” Dabecco says.

Kris and Rocco think alike, they live together and they transferred to UMass Boston together. Now let’s see if they can win together.