Confidence key to Greenberg’s ascent
OXFORD, Ohio – Miami suffered through a miserable 3-12-1 stretch to wrap up the 2013-14 regular season and limped into its conference tournament, finishing last in the NCHC.
That meant a best-of-3 series at top-seeded St. Cloud State just for the RedHawks to extend their season.
Miami shocked the Huskies by winning Game 1, and just as it appeared Game 2 would head to overtime, Justin Greenberg buried the game-winning and series-clinching shot in the closing seconds of regulation.
The decisive play started with Matt Joyaux knocking down a SCSU shot in front of his net and skating to center, where he fed streaking Anthony Louis on the right wing. Louis crossed the blue line, curled and slid a pass to Greenberg, who was open in the slot.
Greenberg settled the puck down and buried a wrister low to the glove side, then after sliding on his knees in celebration, he jumped into the arms of Alex Gacek – a close friend of his on the team – in one of the more picturesque moments in recent team history.
“It’s pretty unrealistic still because if you go back and look at it, I still remember Matty Joyaux – a freshman – blocks a shot and ends up passing up the ice to Anthony Louis, another freshman,” Greenberg said. “I had no idea how much time was left on the clock when it actually happened, which is probably bad on my part, I probably should’ve been more aware. But Anthony made a pass, and I remember when I shot it, I thought it was going in, in slow motion. I didn’t really have to do a lot because Anthony did all the work.”
It was just his second career goal, with his other coming in a 6-1 win over Colorado College 12 games earlier.
“When you come in as a freshman, it’s a big transition,” friend and student coach Johnny Wingels said. “College hockey is a much faster and bigger, stronger game than junior hockey is. With him being a smaller player, it can be difficult to get some confidence. Any time you can score a huge goal like that to make our team move on to the next round, that’s just a huge confidence booster, and everyone was really happy for him to able to score that goal.”
That shift is even more impressive considering Greenberg did not field Division I offers until midway through his final season of juniors.
Greenberg grew up in Plano, Texas, and he said his father, Joel, used to take him and his brother to watch his godfather’s son play. Both Greenberg brothers caught the fever and soon began lacing up the skates.
Even with the Stars entrenched in the local market, Greenberg said he had a difficult time gauging his ability because of the relative lack of teams in the area.
He was drafted by Green Bay of the USHL but ended up playing for the closer-to-home Texas Tornado of the NAHL. In Greenberg’s first season with that team, he recorded 27 points in 39 games, but more importantly, he netted the Robertson Cup-clinching goal in overtime.
Greenberg rolled up 25 goals and 32 assists for 57 points in 60 games in his second season with Texas, toward the end of which he ended up committing to Miami.
Greenberg’s brother was the same age as a former Miami forward from the Dallas area – Blake Coleman – and those two ended up playing against each other and becoming best friends.
“So it ended up being a pretty easy decision,” Greenberg said. “I had basically an older brother here the first couple of years.”
Greenberg did not commit until February of 2013, and was the last player in his class to sign.
When he came to Oxford, Coleman was the only MU player he knew.
“He definitely helped make the adjustment a lot more comfortable,” Greenberg said.
In his freshman season, Greenberg dressed for 33 of the RedHawks’ 38 games, including the final 25. He finished with two goals – including that series clincher vs. St. Cloud State – and six assists while taking just four minor penalties.
“All the coaches made me feel pretty comfortable right away, they made sure I was playing with confidence – that’s always been a big thing since I’ve gotten here is I’ve got to work on being more confident, being more mentally tough,” Greenberg said. “But I think a big thing was the coaches actually believed in me before I believed in myself. That’s what contributed to me playing that many games is (them) showing they had faith in me and that I was responsible enough to dress in almost every game.”
Greenberg should have been brimming with confidence after playing such a crucial role in Miami’s postseason, but he was unable to work out that summer because of shoulder surgery.
Partly as a result, on a points-per-game basis his sophomore season was his worst in Oxford, as he ended up with a goal and five helpers despite being in the lineup 35 times.
In his junior season, Greenberg saw more time on the penalty kill – partly due to the loss of key forwards including Austin Czarnik and Riley Barber – and he began to thrive in that role.
He played 32 games and scored just once but tallied a career-best nine assists.
“Greeny’s a huge impact player for us,” Sullivan said. “He’s the guy you want to be in a foxhole with. He’s totally selfless – he’s one of the most selfless human beings I’ve ever met, on or off the ice – he’s willing to sacrifice his body to block shots. He does all of the little things very, very well and I think that’s what makes him a huge impact player for us.”
Greenberg blocked 22 shots – third-best among forwards on the team – and was assessed just one minor penalty as he helped the RedHawks to a 91.0 percent penalty killing percentage.
“I feel like I’ve found a way to play a lot more minutes being responsible,” Greenberg said. “I know if we have a defensive zone faceoff, the coaches normally put me out there…same with PK, I normally play a lot of penalty kill.”
This season, he has improved his win percentage in the faceoff circle to .499 after a slow start on draws. He worked with former assistant and ex-Miami star Derek Edwardson tirelessly, and that effort seems to paying off.
“Every day after practice, you’ll see Kiefer Sherwood, he’s taking one-timers,” Sullivan said. “But what you don’t notice is Justin Greenberg’s out there in the corner taking hundreds and hundreds of draws. He’s one of the hardest-working guys on this team. Everything that he’s been given he’s definitely deserved. He works super, super hard and he’s reaping the benefits of it right now.”
He has a goal and three assists, but unfortunately has missed the last nine games with a lower body injury.
“(Penalty killing forward) was definitely a hole that needed to be filled,” Sullivan said. “He’s a huge, huge befefit to our PK…he does all the little things that people who are not familiar with hockey might not notice, but the little detailed things that he does on the penalty kill and 5 on 5 makes a huge difference. Hopefully we can get him back soon.”
Greenberg is close to returning and could be back this weekend, as he has just four regular season games remaining in a career that has seen him improve dramatically in some of the nuances of the game.
“I’d say I definitely became a more complete hockey player,” Greenberg said. “I should’ve contributed a lot more than I have offensively, I’d say I do have the skill set to do it, but a lot of it was a confidence thing. But I’m glad I’ve found a lot of ways to at least contribute other than scoring since I’ve been here.”
Miami’s penalty killing was 85.0 percent with him in the lineup and 80.0 percent since his injury.
Greenberg is one of several Jewish players to come through the RedHawks’ hockey program in recent years. That list includes standouts Carter Camper and Matt and Nathan Davis.
Joel Greenberg is Jewish and Justin’s mother, Doreen, is Christian, but Justin was allowed to decide whether to go through Bar Mitvah when he was a teenager and both he and his brother chose that route.
“I felt like it was the right thing to do,” Greenberg said.
For his career, Greenberg has logged 121 games, piling up five goals and 23 assists for 28 points.
“He’s not someone that’ll jump out at you on the score sheet, he’s just very sound defensively, he’s always in the right position,” Wingels said. “He’s good at faceoffs, which is a really big thing for us, and we really miss him in the lineup. You can see that third-line center spot is really important, and you can right now with him out it’s something we’re lacking, and we’re looking forward to getting him back in the lineup.”
He has blocked 49 shots, and despite playing a defensive role much of the time, has just 30 penalty minutes.
“PK is one of his strong suits, and (with him out) you’ve got to get guys slotted in there who might not be the best in that role, but you need someone to do it,” Wingels said. “Having him back in the lineup, solidifying that PK will be a huge help for us. The penalty kill is something that we take huge pride in and we like to be at the top of the league every year.”
Wingels, Sullivan and Greenberg have been close friends the past several years.
“He’s a really nice kid – he’s a little quiet but he’s really funny as well,” Wingels said. “Once you get to know him he opens up more. He likes to joke around, have a good time. He’s really easy to talk to, and a big sports fan – we’re really similar in that, we’ll watch anything on TV that’s involving sports.”
Said Sullivan: “Justin’s my friend now, he’s going to be my friend until I’m 70, 80, 90 years old. That’s a reason why I wanted to come here is to build lasting relationships, and in Greeny I definitely did that.”
Greenberg said besides hockey, he said his personal growth is one of the best things to come out of his Miami experience. In the classroom, Greenberg has a 3.3 grade-point average as an accounting major.
“I’ve matured a lot,” Greenberg said. “To be able to play college hockey, you don’t realize coming in how much you need to mature mentally. Stepping from youth hockey to junior hockey, it’s completely different from stepping from junior hockey to college. Here, you’re on your own. You have the coaching staff, but they’re not with you at all times.”
Because he signed so late, Greenberg did not have the opportunity to visit Oxford prior to his freshman year, but he fell in love with the town and the program immediately.
“When I came here in the summer (before freshman year), I couldn’t believe it,” Greenberg said. “This place is awesome. We play in what many call the best league in the country, and you go to the (other) campuses, and I don’t even know how someone could even pick there if you’re not looking at hockey. Great town, great people.”
Posted on February 22, 2017, in 2016-17, features, Justin Greenberg and tagged 2016-17 miami redhawks, colin sullivan, features, johnny wingels, Justin Greenberg. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.