NORFOLK, VA – Norfolk Admirals defenseman Anthony Calabrese was told early in his hockey career that if he wanted to make a team or make it to the next level, he would have to transition from offense to defense. A change that occurred during his sophomore year of high school and the change paid dividends as the Bridgeton, New Jersey native enters his first full pro season in the ECHL.
Calabrese noted that the change was a learning experience, “It’s a completely different game from forward to defense. You’ve got to learn a lot of the ins and outs with the D-zone’s and things of that nature. Forward is completely different.”
Following high school and a season in the EJHL, Calabrese found his game as a defenseman in the SIJHL with the Wisconsin Wilderness where he had a stand-out year during the 2011-2012 campaign, leading all defensemen in scoring. Calabrese discussed his standout season saying, “The team was great. We had an unbelievable team. My D partners were always good and the power play ran well. I was just moving the puck quickly and getting it around and doing the best I could.” In addition to his standout play, the Wilderness won the championship that year under current Admirals Head Coach Rod Aldoff.
The championship and his standout season in juniors led the 170-pounder to the college ranks where he played four years with Plattsburgh State while earning a degree in Sports Communications. Calabrese talked about leaving the junior ranks for college, “I was with Rod. I had another year to play of juniors and I decided to opt out and thought my best chance to play college hockey was at Plattsburgh.”
Like many Freshmen, Anthony found himself competing for ice time, but when his Sophomore year came around, he adapted to the college game and life.
“My Freshman year was a struggle. I was in and out of the lineup, getting to know everything and situations like that. My Sophomore year came around and I really adapted to the system that he (Coach Bob Emery) played and just trying to play my role.”
In college, Calabrese notched 47 points in 86 games, while often being called upon to run the power play on the point.
Plattsburgh State Head Coach, Bob Emery praised Calabrese saying, “He was definitely a puck moving Defenseman and a play-making type guy who is known for good breakouts and was good at joining the fourth wave as we call it in hockey.”
Emery also discussed how Calabrese improved under his watch, “The biggest improvement came in the weight room and his one-on-one play. He was always a good puck moving Defenseman and if he had a liability, it was on the defensive end of his game, but he improved that.”
Calabrese said that he grew not just as a player in college, but he grew as a person too, admitting that Coach Emery held his players to a high standard.
“It made me mature so much. Coach Emery was really strict on doing the right things and making you a better person, being a pro, and moving on to the next level. I learned a lot. You couldn’t skip class. If you did you had to sit a game and make sure you were in for curfew. It was different for sure because I didn’t go to school for two years before. It was tough to get back into it. Our coaches and advisers really helped us out a lot, getting back into the swing of things.”
Making the jump from college to pro is a tough hill to climb, but, Calabrese had an ally in the SPHL with the Pensacola Ice Flyers in his former junior coach Rod Aldoff, who became his first pro coach and made the transition a little easier. The on-ice adjustment Anthony noticed right away was the size and speed of the SPHL.
“The size of the guys is a huge thing and the speed is a lot faster. Professional hockey and college hockey are two different games. You’ve got to learn all the new systems and new plays. I think I adapted pretty well, but there is always room to get better.”
Last season, Aldoff guided the Ice Flyers to the SPHL President’s Cup and Calabrese was part of that run as he said, “I was only there for 7 regular season games and 7 playoff games. I was fortunate enough to win a championship with them which was an unbelievable feeling. Coach Aldoff is an unbelievable coach who knows what he’s doing and he knows how to run his team. It was a lot of fun, but unfortunately, I had to travel right back to school to graduate two days after we won it all.”
Calabrese and his teammates even took a dip in the Gulf of Mexico with the cup, “It was definitely pretty fun, maybe even a little nerve-wracking, making sure we don’t lose the cup in the ocean. I had a feeling if we did, we would be in a little bit of trouble. A lot of people wanted to celebrate with us and support us. It was a lot of fun.”
This season, Calabrese is playing under Aldoff again in the ECHL. Playing under Aldoff once more makes his transition from the SPHL to the ECHL a little smoother as Calabrese put it, “It definitely helps knowing the coach and everything like that. At the same time, it’s a job. No matter who you are, you still have got to play right and play your position well and you’ve got to produce and be a good player. It’s always a grind and you have to make sure you’re working hard.”
Under the tutelage of Head Coach Rod Aldoff, Calabrese’s game will only improve as he continues his rookie year in the ECHL.