The old adage — keep it simple, stupid — often applies to the game of hockey. Staying within yourself, playing within the system, and making the smart play can often be the difference between winning and losing. Gianluca Curcuruto is more than smart enough to embrace that adage — and he knows that it can help propel him up the draft boards at the 2012 NHL entry draft.
"There definitely is the pressure to perform, especially being ranked so high. I just try to do what I can," he explained. "In the end, if I feel that I’ve played a good game and I know that my coaches are happy with the way that I’ve played, then I think that I’ll be okay.
"Mostly what I hear from my coaches, is that everyone makes mistakes. Nobody’s perfect, but it’s how you rebound from those mistakes and how you go out and play the next shift."
The 6′, 195-pound blueliner appears at number 28 on the ISS’ most-recent top prospect rankings. However, he got off to a bit of a rocky start this season — a fact his coach attributes to trying to do too much, too soon.
"He needs to work on simplifying his game. When he tries to make it complicated it gets a little difficult for him, but he’s been doing a great job lately — I’d say the last 10 to 15 games," Soo head coach Mike Stapleton said. "The game’s come back to him. He makes the smart play and that’s all you need to do as a defenseman.
"He wants to impress and we’ve talked about it — keep it simple and you’ll impress. He’s a steady two-way defenseman and he’s reliable."
"I know going into the draft a lot of people are watching you and he’s always looking for scouts and worried about that," Rogalski added. "I just tell him to go out every day, play the way you play, and you’ll be fine.
"It’s been great. At the beginning of the season he was a little jittery, but he’s settled down and he knows what he’s got to do out there — and he’s been doing it."
Curcuruto finished last season with 26 points in 56 games. This year, he’s matched his goal total from last year (mind you, it is a total of one), while adding seven assists in 19 games.
He said he’s learned to focus on his game and credits both the coaching staff and the senior players on the Greyhounds, including Rogalski, for helping him stay the course. He added he’s also drawing upon his personal experience, when he was drafted 14th-overall by the Soo in the 2010 OHL priority draft.
"I just try to play my game out there. You can only control what you do out there and I try not to get too nervous. It’s the same as with the OHL draft — there’s always people watching in the stands, but I’m just going to do the same thing that I did that year. I’m just going to play my game," he said. "[The coaches and players] have told me a lot. They’ve been giving me guidance throughout the season — stuff like not getting too nervous, or not getting too down on yourself when you have a bad game.
"There’s 68 games throughout the whole season, so they pretty much tell me to play the way you can and you’ll be fine."
And Stapleton said that solid, overall game is an asset for the club — and he’s not afraid to pit Curcuruto against the opposition’s top line.
"He’s a headsy player," Stapleton explained. "He goes into the hard areas to play, he headmans the puck well. He’s played against all the top players in the league so far, and he’s done a great job, so he’s done well!"
Stapleton credits both his assistant captain, Rogalski, and his coaching staff for guiding the 17-year-old through the process.
"I think he’s learned a lot from Joe Rogalski, his partner," Stapleton said. "It gives him some stability back there. [Assistant coach] Nick Warriner’s worked with the defense and he’s done a nice job."
Rogalski added that he and Curcuruto work diligently each day to improve their on-ice cohesion. "Just everyday we practice and work on the little things. Some days we’ll go with our D-coach, Warnsey, to do D-to-Ds," he explained. "We’ll go watch video together. He helps me too in helping get the younger kids back into the line-up.
"It’s a good opportunity for him right now and it’s a good opportunity for me to play with such a great player."
Curcuruto said that he has not set any personal goals this season, preferring to focus on team’s progress. He said he felt the core of this year’s Greyhounds was good enough to be a contender — and that was before they picked up franchise netminder Jack Campbell (DAL) in a trade with the Windsor Spitfires for draft picks.
"I don’t really have any personal goals — the sky’s the limit for me. As a team, though, I just want to go as far as possible," Curcuruto added. "With the core guys we have here, we have a great chance of getting to the OHL finals, if not going to the Memorial Cup.
"I think it was electric when [Campbell] came on the bus — the guys were excited and you started to see, finally, the potential that this team really has. With him being one of the final pieces to the puzzle, I think we can have a really dynamite team this year."
One would expect having a player the caliber of Campbell between the pipes would foster a sense of added security, potentially freeing the defense to take more chances and jump up into the play. Curcuruto said he’s not the type of player to consider changing his game dependent upon which teammate is between the pipes.
"I’ll play as hard as I can for whoever’s in net. I’ll never single a guy out whether he’s better or not," he said. "I always try to do everything I can to help out the goalie, whether it’s blocking a shot or making a good play.
"I’m just focused on working on all aspects of my game — just tweak the little things, make sure my game is as crisp as can be."
Being from Richmond Hill, ON — a suburb of Toronto — one would expect Curcuruto to be a fan of the hometown blue and white, but some familial influence helped sway him away from the local consensus.
"No I was not [Toronto Maple Leafs fan], actually. I think I was — I would say — trained by my father not to get caught up in all the hype around the Leafs," he explained. "And my Godfather, he loves watching me play, and he’s a huge [Montreal] Canadiens fan.
"But I’m going to have to go a little off the map with this — I’m a [Philadelphia] Flyers fan. I loved the style of play that they had and I loved watching them play the Leafs in the playoffs a lot and beat them. If I got drafted by [the Flyers] it’s a dream come true. But any team that drafts me, I’m going to be happy and it’ll still be my dream come true.
And Curcuruto goes even further afield to find a player upon whom he’ll model his game. Instead of his favored Flyers, the local Leafs, or even the Godfather’s Habs, the young blueliner looks much further south for inspiration.
"I really like to try to model my game on Shea Weber," he said. "I really like the way he plays — he’s a very good defensive guy, he’s got a big shot from the point, he can be depended upon when the moment is needed, so that’s how I try to model my game."
With enough on his plate, Curcuruto said he’s not thinking too far ahead. He wants to focus on this year’s edition of the Greyhounds — a team that’s currently a surprising third overall in the OHL’s Western Conference. But he does admit to harboring a desire to pull another red-and-white jersey over his head.
"I haven’t really thought about [the future] all that much, just because it’s the draft year and you can get so caught up in it," Curcuruto said. "But I mean World Juniors is also in the back of my head. That would be a goal in my mind for the next couple of years.
"You always want to play for your country."