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Finoro brings his hockey talents back home (4 photos)

His junior career over, Guelph Minor Hockey product Gio Finoro is now skating for the University of Guelph Gryphons

Hockey took Gio Finoro away from town in the first place and now it and getting an education has brought the Guelph native back home.

A forward who sees time on the power play, Finoro managed to score in his first Ontario university men’s hockey home game with the Guelph Gryphons.

“That was fantastic,” he said. “I grew up watching these guys so my first game with the Gryphons, it was awesome to score. Especially since I’m from Guelph and I had a lot of family here, it’s nice to score in front of them.”

“It’s wonderful to have him and Zack McFadden on the team — local flavour,” Gryphon coach Shawn Camp said.

Finoro’s role on the power play is to occupy space in front of the opposition’s net, distract the goalie by blocking his view as much as possible.

“I love it in front of the net,” Finoro said. “The puck’s always going to go to the net so it puts me in a position where I can screen the goalie, help the guys get a shot off or if there was a rebound, I can help bang it in so it’s a good spot for me to kind of get into the game.”

Finoro has also had major junior experience playing in front of the net on the power play.

“He’s a big strong guy and he scored a bunch of goals on the power play last year in the Quebec Major Junior League,” Camp said. “He knows where to go on the power play and he sniffs out the puck really well. He’s very disciplined around the net and he’s going to be a good scorer for us here on the power play as we go forward.”

In front of the net is also a place where you can take a little punishment.

“I was taking a couple of whacks and cross checks there, but it’s part of the game and part of my role,” he said. “I just do my role and do my thing.”

While many Guelph Minor Hockey Association rep teams play home games at the Gryphon Centre, it’s been a few years since Finoro had played a game on the larger ice surface.

“Wow. An official game? Almost five years now,” he said. “It’s been a while. Minor midget was my last time here.”

After being selected in the eighth round of the 2014 OHL draft by the Barrie Colts, Finoro stayed home to play a season of junior B hockey with the now-departed Guelph Hurricanes. One of the younger players on that team, Finoro had eight goals and four assists in 39 games after getting 19 goals and 18 assists in 40 games with the Guelph Junior Gryphons minor midget AAA squad the season before.

He them played two seasons in the OHL where he netted 16 goals and had 15 assists in 110 games with Barrie. He started the 2017-18 season in the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League, but jumped to the Gatineau Olympiques of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League after scoring five goals in two games with the NOJHL’s Rayside-Balfour Canadians. He collected 43 goals and 47 assists in 125 games with the Olympiques giving him 59 goals and 62 assists in 235 major junior games.

“The hockey’s been great,” he said. “Each level that I’ve played at, it gets better and better. (U Sports hockey) is growing and it’s getting a lot more noticed. There are a lot of really good guys coming out of junior to come play here and get an education. The level is always stepping up. Guys are bigger and faster so you have to every summer make sure you’re preparing for the next year because if you think it’s easy, it’s not.”

Having played in both the OHL and QMJHL, Finoro did notice small differences between the leagues.

“The leagues are very similar,” he said. “The one difference that I saw was that the O was a little bigger and a little bit harder, little bit heavier play, and the Q was a little faster, a little bit more speed – not more skill in general, but a little more speed aspect of it.”

And now he’s noticed the difference between major junior and university hockey after three league games with the Gryphons.

“You go from playing with boys to playing with men,” he said. “As you get older, you start to see the difference where you can’t push guys off the puck as much or you’re getting pushed off more often. It is an adjustment period, but it’s one you have to learn pretty quickly.”

U Sports hockey also has the education aspect to it. Marks have to be maintained and attendance in class is mandatory.

“I’ve always thought to go to school first before I go and try to pursue my aspirations for pro,” Finoro said. “I talked a lot with my family. I’m a big family person so I sat down with them and they all agreed that if I want to go play pro, I should get my education first, knock on wood that nothing happens, just to make sure you have a back-up plan that you can fall back on if anything happens.”

Mixing hockey and education can be a tough thing, especially for the first-year students, but being a member of a varsity sports team can bring benefits that way.

“The time management is the biggest part, but what I love about Guelph so far is that they are very helpful. There’s always someone to listen and always someone there to talk to,” Finoro said.

“Anybody you go to will always help you. If they can’t help you, they’ll put you in contact with someone who can. Yes it’s been a very big change for me, but I’ve had such a great support staff that it’s made my transition a lot smoother.”

While the majority of major junior players are also students, whether it be at high school or at university, things seem a little different in the university league.

“You are a student athlete,” Finoro said. “You’re here to play hockey, but you’re also here to get an education and education is always first. Yes, we play on the weekends, but it doesn’t matter if it’s on the weekends or during the week, school’s first and hockey’s second.”

Finoro is studying human kinetics.

“It’s learning about the body,” he said. “(As an athlete), you’re involved with it all the time. You’re in with the trainers and they’re working on you. It’s always been kind of an inquiry of mine. When they’re working on me I ask them ‘Oh what happened? Why did it happen? How do I fix it?’”

For the Gryphs, a 3-1 win over the York Lions in their home opener Saturday night meant they got their first home victory of the season a lot sooner than last season when it didn’t come until their eighth home game when they defeated York 5-2 on Nov. 22.

“It’s good to get it right off the bat,” Finoro said. “It’s a 28-game schedule and that’s different from major junior which is 68. Every game is like a playoff game. You’re always fighting for a spot. The team that usually jumps ahead has an easier second half of the year which is always nice. But every game counts and we’re hoping to do our best right off the bat.”

And what will be a good season?

“A good season is to get the team as far as we can,” Finoro answered. “I’m looking to come in here and do whatever I can to get the team to the finals, the Nationals. They made it there last year. They had a very good run in the playoffs (but lost the OUA final and their lone game at the U Sports championship tournament a week later.) I think we have the team here to get over that hump and win a national championship.”