Playing college hockey nearly 2,600 miles away from home is nothing that longtime Anaheim Jr. Ducks goaltender Patrick Pugliese can’t handle.
Pugliese, who is having a solid junior season for the New Jersey Titans of the North American Hockey League, committed to Niagara University in Lewiston, N.Y., during the last week of February.
In the process the gregarious goalie became the 25th player with ties to the Jr. Ducks to make a Division I commitment. A 1999 birth year, he will begin his college career in the fall.
The opportunity fell into place after Pugliese, whose 24 wins were second in the NAHL through the end of February, played in the league’s Top Prospects tournament a few weeks ago.
“One of my (Titans) teammates, Matt Cameron, had committed to Niagara earlier this season, so they’d been to a lot of our games,” Pugliese said. “Our coach, Craig Doremus, is close with their staff.
“They talked to me there, and less than a week later they offered.”
He played two of his five Jr. Ducks seasons for Alex Kim, the club’s director of player personnel, who appreciated Pugliese’s commitment and consistency.
“Patrick is a really good technical goalie,” Kim said. “James Jensen did a good job with him. Patrick was very consistent – you knew day-to-day what you’d get with him.
“The other thing is he wanted to improve every day. He was respectful and a hard worker, a good teammate. He’d drive down to take shots and work out with other players often.”
After stopping pucks, adaptability has been one of Pugliese’s most important attributes.
Pugliese has spent an inordinate amount of time traversing first Southern California, then North America during the past decade to ply his padded trade.
After playing for four clubs in four years, he and his father began making the daily drive from Pasadena to Orange County for practices and games for the next five seasons through 2016. He then played two seasons at The Loomis Chaffee School in Connecticut because “I wanted to play junior hockey but I didn’t feel I was ready for it.”
When he was ready for it, junior hockey wasn’t ready for him, or so he thought initially. He had hoped to play in the NAHL, but couldn’t draw any serious interest.
“My next thought was playing in the BCHL in Canada, so I went to their pre-draft showcase in Southern California,” Pugliese said. “Penticton’s coaches liked me but they had two veterans returning so they didn’t have a spot. One of them said he’d make some calls.
“I was driving home and I got a call from the coach of the Nipawin Hawks of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey Leauge, and I signed that week.”
Pugliese posted red hot numbers in the great, white north – a 1.95 goals-against average and .931 save percentage.
Of all the transitions, Pugliese said the biggest was adjusting to winter on Canada’s high plains.
“Let’s just say it was a big change,” he said. “I’d lived in Connecticut, I’d been to Mammouth, but I’d never experienced anything like this. From Oct. 31 until mid-March it was 32 degrees or colder every day. There were two weeks in January when it was literally the coldest place on earth.”
“Minus-47 degrees at one point.”
The weather thawed and Pugliese’s play remained hot this season, when he realized one goal of playing in the NAHL.
“It has a huge reputation for developing goalies,” he said. “Every year the Titans send a goalie to a D-I school.”
The aid has been mutual. Pugliese has helped the Titans to first place in the East Division. They’ve already clinched a playoff berth. His 24-5-0 record and save percentage of .911 have a lot to do with that.
“It’s neat to see him get rewarded,” Kim said. “I’m glad our organization could be part of their process. Patrick and his family could have gotten discouraged but they didn’t, they stuck with it.”
Next, it’s a relatively small – by Pugliese’s standards anyway – move north for college.
“If my family and I could drive from Pasadena to Anaheim or Yorba Linda every day, obviously distance is no obstacle,” he quipped.