The dream is a reality. South Jersey’s Kyle Criscuolo can now say he played in the NHL
The native of Southampton in Burlington County made his NFL debut with the Buffalo Sabres on Friday night against Detroit.
“It was exhilarating,” Criscuolo said Sunday night from Buffalo. “The buildup was super stressful. I was just really thankful that my family and my girlfriend and some of my buddies were able to be there.
“It was really special.”
Criscuolo, who was a mid-week call up from Buffalo’s minor league affiliate Rochester, skated 10 shifts and played 6:56 and had one shot in his debut against the Red Wings in Detroit.
“It wasn’t a lot of time compared to what I was playing in Rochester, but obviously it was my first game and I was just glad to put out any energy I could,” said Criscuolo, a two-time captain of the Harvard University hockey team.
On Saturday night, against Carolina, he skated 11 shifts and played 7:56.
“It was good to be in Buffalo and play in our home building,” said Criscuolo, 25, who is wearing No. 51, about playing the Hurricanes.
The 5-foot-8, 170-pound center was on the losing end of his first two NHL games as the Sabres dropped both by the identical 3-1 score.
Criscuolo, who played basketball at St. Mary’s of the Lakes School in Medford, played in Rochester’s 3-0 win on Wednesday and was told after the game that he was promoted.
“No I didn’t,” he said with a laugh when asked if he got any sleep that memorable night. “It’s hard enough to get sleep after playing a game and then knowing that I got called out for the first time…
“I played at Rochester, after the game I was told, I went home, packed my stuff. It took an hour and 10 minutes to get here and once I got in I wasn’t really able to sleep well in the hotel, but the next night I was able to get some rest.”
Criscuolo, who attended St. Joseph’s Prep School in Philadelphia, signed as a free agent during the offseason with Buffalo. In talking with Sabres general manager Jason Botterill, he felt he would have an opportunity to receive the phone call of his dreams.
In 14 games with Rochester, Criscuolo collected 11 points (five goals and six assists) to tie for the team lead.
Last spring, Criscuolo hoisted the Calder Cup after winning the American Hockey League’s championship chalice in his rookie season with the Grand Rapids Griffins, the minor league affiliate of the Detroit Red Wings.
At the time, he said, “It's pretty much the second biggest trophy in hockey” about the AHL, which is the same league the Flyers’ affiliate Lehigh Valley Phantoms play.
Criscuolo had signed a free agent contract with the Detroit organization. He played in all 76 regular season games and collected 17 goals and 24 assists for 41 points, which tied for seventh best on the Grand Rapids Griffins.
He played in all 19 playoff games and scored five goals and had four assists for nine points, which was 10th best on the team as the Griffins went 15-4 in the postseason.
“Yeah it was funny,” said Criscuolo about facing the Red Wings in his NHL debut. “It was nice because I knew some of the guys, I was with them in preseason last year so I was a little less nervous than if I was going up against a team I hadn’t seen before.”
Prior to turning pro, Criscuolo helped Harvard to their second straight NCAA Tournament appearance as a senior.
Before playing for the Crimson, Criscuolo was named Rookie of the Year for the Sioux City Musketeers of the USHL, a junior league, during 2011-12 season.
He also played two seasons at Choate Rosemary Hall, a prep school in Wallingford, Connecticut, and three years at St. Joseph’s Prep, where he was the team captain during the 2008-09 season and was named the league MVP.
Growing up in South Jersey, Criscuolo played against Johnny Gaudreau of Carneys Point and Gloucester Catholic, who played in his third all-star game in three seasons with the Calgary Flames last year.
Gaudreau, who led the nation in scoring at Boston College and won the Hobey Baker Award as college hockey’s best player, is 5-foot-9. Now Criscuolo is in the same league as Gaudreau.
Of course, Criscuolo also grew up in the shadow of the Flyers’ practice facility in Voorhees.
Criscuolo and the Sabres play the Flyers in Philadelphia on Thursday, Dec. 14. Then, on Dec. 22, the Flyers travel to Buffalo.
On New Years Day, Buffalo plays in the Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic at Citi Field in New York against the Rangers. On Sunday, Jan. 7, the Sabres return to Philly to play the Flyers.
So there are opportunities coming up for Criscuolo to play in front of more friends and family.
But Criscuolo is focusing on this week.
“We have a couple games this week - Monday Wednesday Friday and Saturday,” said Criscuolo. “The lineup still isn’t out but hopefully he will put me in this week.”
Buffalo stays home with games against Columbus, Minnesota and Edmonton before traveling to Montreal on Saturday.
The Sabres have lost six straight under new coach Phil Housley and are 5-12-4 overall. But Buffalo has the heralded Jack Eichel to build around.
“There’s new management, a new coach, a new style of play,” Criscuolo said. “As a team it can’t happen over night, so we’re trying to build this back up and I think the right people are in the right places to do it.”
Now, Criscuolo is one of those people in place, just like he dreamed.