For journalism junior James Grachos, living in Texas is quite different than growing up in his childhood home of North Buffalo, New York. The weather is much warmer, the barbeque tastes different and the people are friendlier.
But one thing stays consistent — hockey.
Hockey was the sport all the kids played growing up in upstate New York. Grachos spent five to six days a week on the ice practicing with his organized AAA team, the Hamburg Hawks. Once he got home, he was back on the ice playing on a homemade ice rink in his backyard over hot chocolate with neighborhood friends.
Finding hockey in a state known for football, however, wasn’t as hard as it may seem.
James’ father, Louis Grachos, has spent a considerable amount of time around hockey, watching both NHL and semiprofessional games. As soon as Louis moved to Austin, he found out about Texas Ice Hockey and let James know right away.
“I told James that if you ever decide to go to UT, you can always think about playing club hockey,” Louis said.
After Grachos was accepted into the University of Texas, he sent an email to Texas Ice Hockey president Michael Webb about joining the team. Webb responded in 20 minutes and scheduled a tryout time for Grachos.
Grachos eventually made the team and had a significant impact on the team as soon as he put on the burnt orange sweater.
Grachos compiled 12 goals and 27 assists for a team-leading 39 points in only 22 games in his first season on the team. Now, after only 13 games of the 2015-16 season, Grachos has already matched his career high in goals scored, has nine assists and is on his way to hitting the 40 point mark.
“Scoring goals is awesome,” Grachos said. “It’s like hitting a homerun or throwing a touchdown pass. It’s a unique feeling once you know the puck is in the net, so I’m still searching for that, whether playing at the highest level in Toronto or club hockey in Texas.”
The Texas Ice Hockey team has the talent and the speed to compete with some of the top club teams in the area, but head coach Aubrey Berkowitz preaches focusing on the smaller parts of the game to become the most hard-working team — a mold that Grachos fits very well.
“He’s a player that wins all the one-on-one battles; he works really hard, and he’s a really fast skater,” Berkowitz said. “He plays well within the system, and he does a good job of running the point on the power play, but he makes all of the players around him better, which is really the most important thing.”
Despite leading the team in goals scored, Grachos takes pride in his passing ability on the ice. He was even given the nickname “Jim Sauce” for his tendency to utilize the sauce pass in hockey.
“I love making the pass,” Grachos said. “Believe me, I do love being the center of attention. Scoring the big goal is awesome and I’ve scored my fair share of big goals, but I like having a teammate score the goal so I can get in their grill about it all the time.”
Grachos said he never thought he would be playing hockey again after high school. Now, he can’t think of doing anything else.
“I can’t imagine not playing hockey,” Grachos said. “It’s part of who I am. Hockey will always be a very large part of my life, and as long as I can play, I will.”