Grassi, Josepher find chemistry as 3rd pairing
Matt Grassi and Zach Josepher couldn’t stand playing against each other in junior hockey.
Before committing to MSU, both defensemen spent two years playing in the British Columbia Hockey League. Grassi played for the Salmon Arm Silverbacks, while Josepher played for the Penticton Vees.
The teams were located less than two hours away from each other and played at least six times a season, creating a fierce rivalry between the squads — and Grassi and Josepher.
“I hated him,” Grassi said of Josepher. “My first year especially. I hated playing against him.”
After two seasons of big hits and trash talk, imagine the shock when the two defensemen heard they would spend their college years playing for the same team.
“I was caught off guard,” Josepher said.
“We battled hard for two years, then I found out he committed to MSU. I was like, ‘Wow, he’s going to be my teammate, maybe I’ll still beat him up. But I’ve got to treat him differently.’”
The two defensemen developed an on-ice rivalry in junior hockey, but never held an off-ice conversation. That’s why Grassi was so surprised when he heard teammmates on his Canada West team talking highly of Josepher.
“The way they described him, it just seemed like they were describing me,” Grassi said.
“I got to talking to him over the computer and we exchanged numbers and started texting a bit and talking on the phone. We became best buddies without meeting each other. When we both flew in here in August, our families went out for dinner and we clicked just like we had known each other for years.”
Since then, the two freshmen have paired to become the Spartans’ third defensive unit.
“They’ve done a really nice job,” MSU head coach Rick Comley said. “They are both big and strong. They are good with the puck and they are confident. Their point totals are pretty good for both of them and they play in good situations and give us good minutes.”
If logging countless hours of ice time together wasn’t enough, the two decided to be roommates, as well.
“It adds to the factor that we both respect each other,” Josepher said of living with Grassi.
“Obviously everybody on the team is friends. But living with each other you get a closer bond and start to understand the person more. It’s a lot easier playing with someone when you are roommates.”
The off-ice friendship has led to some impressive on-ice chemistry. The duo’s reliability has given Comley no qualms about playing the two freshmen at any point in the game, including the power play and penalty kill.
“If one guy gets caught up, the other guy is back,” Grassi said. “If he rushes up, I know to be back. I think we work perfectly together. And playing in every situation together, like the power play and penalty kill, helps that much more.”
The two defensemen sport differing styles.
The 6-foot-3, 215-pound Grassi is a big, physical defenseman. While Josepher does have decent size — 6-foot, 195 pounds — he is known for his wicked wrist shot from the point, which Comley said is one of the hardest shots on the team.
Both also have contributed offensively, with Josepher posting four goals and six assists, and Grassi chipping in one goal and three assists.
Combined, the two defensemen are plus-18.
Entering this season, the two freshmen had no idea how much ice time they would log. But their chemistry, on and off the ice, could keep them together as a reliable defensive unit for the Spartans for the next three seasons.
“Coach believes in us working for the ice time we get,” Josepher said. “Believe me, the two of us have been working pretty hard. Hopefully we keep getting some rewards for it.”