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10/08/2010 12:03 AM -

Defenseman Greg Amadio returns to Grand Rapids after celebrating back-to-back Calder Cup titles in Hershey.

Story by Mark Newman

Whether it’s taking a punch to the head or a puck to the face, Greg Amadio will do whatever takes to win. It’s better than the alternative – losing – which often feels like a kick in the gut.

In the end, it’s all about sacrificing oneself for the good of the team. Players like Amadio exemplify the axiom that “teamwork divides the task and multiplies the success.” It’s the spirit that is embodied in the “all for one and one for all” mantra.

Craig Kennedy, a former Ontario Hockey League forward and a longtime friend of Amadio, described his pal succinctly for their hometown Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, newspaper. “He’s the ultimate team guy,” Kennedy said.

Amadio credits his dad Ron and older brother Terry for instilling the proper character and attitude. “It’s the way I’ve always played hockey and it’s really the only way I know how to play,” he said. “When people say those things about me, I don’t know what to say.”

He is excited to return to the Griffins organization, which he feels helped prepare him for the success that he would later enjoy in Hershey, where he won back-to-back Calder Cup championships the last two seasons.

“Grand Rapids gave me my first real chance and I really enjoyed the city, the fans and the people there. Everything about it was a good experience,” Amadio said. “I love the idea that I’m coming back here.”

He is returning to the state where he attended college, having graduated from Michigan Tech with a degree in industrial management and marketing in 2003. His father played hockey for the Huskies in the late 1960s.

Amadio spent one and a half seasons in the ECHL before he got a one-game audition with the Manitoba Moose in Dec. 2004. The Griffins came calling a month later and Amadio stayed in Grand Rapids for the remainder of the 2004-05 campaign as well as the following season.

He has fond memories of his time in Grand Rapids, particularly 2005-06 when the Griffins won the AHL’s regular season championship. His teammates that year included current Red Wings Jimmy Howard, Jiri Hudler and Valtteri Filppula, as well as Tomas Kopecky, Matt Ellis and Kyle Quincey.

QRAmadio.jpg“I had learned a lot from older guys like Bryan Helmer, Kip Miller, Travis Richards and Pete Vandermeer during the previous season,” he said. “The following year we had a great group of guys when we had a great regular season. Although things didn’t work out in the playoffs, it was a successful year.”

Amadio bounced from Iowa to Portland to Binghamton the next two seasons. In Portland, he played for head coach Kevin Dineen, who played 1,188 NHL games over his 19-year playing career.

“He had a pretty big influence on me, even though it was only half a season,” Amadio said. “He taught me how to play the game and improve, and showed me how to do the right things to win.”

After a frustrating 2007-08 season in Binghamton, Amadio came to Hershey, where he would experience the best two years of his career. “It was incredible from the day I got there,” he said. “We had a great group of guys.”

That group included team captain and former Grand Rapids teammate Helmer, as well as high-scoring center Alexandre Giroux, who began his pro career with the Griffins in 2001-02 when the team was affiliated with the Ottawa Senators.

Winning the Calder Cup for the first time was an experience Amadio will never forget. “Until you win it, you can’t really know (what it feels like). It’s not something that you can describe.”

Amadio brought the Cup back to Sault Ste. Marie, the place where he first learned to skate some 25 years earlier. His father used to build an outdoor rink for Amadio and his brother Terry every winter. “My dad was pretty busy with work, but whenever he had time, he’d come out with us. He had a huge influence on my development as a hockey player.”

He celebrated the championship with his entire family – parents, sibling, aunts, uncles and cousins– at a party held at an uncle’s home. The occasion was captured on video for a popular YouTube clip that asks “How many Coors Light to fill the Calder Cup?”

In the video, Amadio shows his father the proper way to hold the Cup, rattles off the names of Sault Ste. Marie players who are etched on its side (there’s five) and jokes that it’s the most Italians that have ever touched the trophy. “Ha, I know that’s true, for sure,” he chuckles.

Winning the Cup a second time last year was just as sweet. “There was so much pressure on us right from the beginning because on paper, it was virtually the same team. Luckily we had a special group of guys who were able to handle the pressure all year.”

Hershey set team records for wins (60), points (123), home wins (34), road wins (26), consecutive wins (12), consecutive home wins (24), playoff overtime wins (eight) and consecutive playoff series won (eight).

The marks for wins, home wins, consecutive home wins, playoff overtime wins and consecutive series won also established league records in the 74-year-old AHL.

When the Bears dropped the first two games of the finals, Amadio said Helmer helped to rally the troops. “He got us all together in the room and told us to play with heart and courage and things would work out. Everybody listened and just responded to what he said.”

Amadio might have stayed in Hershey had it not been for the fact that he has played 316 AHL games, which means he now qualifies as a veteran. Teams are limited to five veterans with experience of more than 260 games.

He is looking forward to assuming the role and responsibility of being a veteran with the Griffins this season. “I don’t expect anybody to do anything I wouldn’t do myself,” he said. “I like to lead by example.”

While Amadio is quite vocal – his chatter and enthusiasm were hallmarks of high-tempo practices in Hershey – he is not outspoken. “I’m not averse to talking to someone but it has to be the right time and right situation. If there’s an issue that has to be addressed, you address it.”

Amadio never hesitates to stick up for a teammate by dropping the gloves. “I don’t like to go looking for it, but I know that the way I play, sometimes it’s going to find you,” said Amadio, who led Hershey in penalty minutes the last two seasons. “I’ve never minded doing it – that’s just part of the game, like blocking shots.”

Last season Amadio took a puck in the kisser after a deflected pass bounced off a stick right into his face. “It hurts initially, (then) it just keeps getting worse. Your lip feels like it’s about 10 times the size it normally is. But it happens. It’s just a bad bounce.”

Amadio would like to think he is a better player than he was five years ago when he last played for the Griffins.

“I’m still a stay-at-home, physical defenseman but I move my feet a lot more. I used to be more stationary, but (Griffins assistant coach) Jim Paek used to get all over me to keep my feet moving. I think I have better positioning now, too, and I learned how to relax a bit and not be so uptight.”

At age 29, Amadio knows his chances of playing in the NHL are dwindling, but they are still there. “It’s something that’s always in the back of your mind because you play with so many guys who get that chance,” he said. “I realize the percentages (are small) but it’s still the dream. It keeps me motivated.”

In terms of motivation, however, it’s hard to beat the thrill of winning a team championship, whether it’s the Calder Cup or the NHL’s Stanley Cup.

“I enjoy winning so much that I’m willing to do anything to win, whether it’s blocking shots or dropping the gloves,” he said. “In the end, it’s so worth it.”

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