Friday, October 22, 2010

'Privy' started on wheels, excels on ice

By Christopher Heimerman

Like the blade of a hockey skate, the skills of Alexx Privitera have been carefully sharpened over the years. Interestingly enough, some of his tools were refined thanks to an inline roller skate.

The 17-year-old from Old Tappan, N.J., leads the Muskegon Lumberjacks in points and assists this, the Jacks’ inaugural season in the United States Hockey League. In fact, he leads all of the USHL’s blueliners in both of those categories. The 5-foot-10, 190-pound offensive defenseman has been honing his game on both ends of the ice since he started playing ice hockey at age 4.

But Privitera has his grandmother to thank for setting the wheels in motion – literally. Barbara Nudelman took her grandson to the park when he was just 2 for his first roller skate, which yielded mixed results.

“It’s my first memory, and I’ll never forget that she took me for my first skate - well, at least I attempted to skate around,” Privitera said, laughing.

Privy, as he’s affectionately called by his friends and teammates, immediately fell in love with roller hockey. Over the years, he’s made appearances at the North American Roller Hockey Championships (NARCh), roller hockey’s premier national competition. Two of the years he participated, his team won the gold medal in its division, while the other years, the teams scored a silver medal and a fourth-place finish.

There are glaring differences between roller and ice hockey. Outside the obvious, the play is four skaters on four, and there is no icing, offsides or hitting. Privitera says roller hockey features many more one-on-one and two-on-one situations, as the fewer number of skaters opens up the playing surface – much like in ice hockey’s overtime or when both teams are waiting for a player to hop out of the penalty box. It’s those you-against-me scenarios that developed Privitera’s creativity, vision, sense of space and hands.

“When you’ve got a guy coming at you when you’re behind the net as a defenseman, it’s you and him,” Privitera said. “You’ve got to beat him one way or another and you can’t really use your body.”

“His puck poise, his ability to handle the puck and make plays and see the ice – you can definitely see it translated from what he learned in roller hockey,” Lumberjacks head coach Kevin Patrick said.

What’s pleased Patrick is the way Privitera doesn’t cheat on the defensive side of the puck in order to be effective on offense.

“Alexx has done a really good job, not just in the scoresheet, but in his defensive game,” Patrick said. “He’s willing to block shots, compete and do the hard things defensively.”

Privitera’s willingness to sacrifice the body to block shots for the Jacks is a tool he didn’t sharpen in roller hockey. Wearing substantially less padding, players don’t dare lay down to obstruct shooting lanes. And on offense, redirections are hardly the preferred method of scoring.

“If you’re in front of the net, you’re getting right out of the way when a guy winds up,” said Privitera. “That puck moves, man.”

While Privitera, who will play college hockey at Boston University, developed several facets of his game playing roller hockey, he developed the bulk of his skill on the ice. He cites last season in Ann Arbor, his first in the USHL as a member of Team USA’s Under-17 developmental squad, as the place where he became a premier shot blocker. And, while he admittedly misses roller hockey, he’s got a one-sport mind these days.

“Roller hockey played a big role, but I’m not going to play again – that’s just being realistic,” Privitera said. “It definitely contributed to my vision and my hands and helped shape me as the kind of ice hockey player I am today.”

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