Mallards' Graves mature beyond age

Author: Bobby Matcalf, Lee News Network
Date: Oct 31, 2017

With time running out against Tulsa two weeks ago, Jacob Graves laid his body on the line to block a shot in the final minute.

The block helped the Quad City Mallards grab their first win of the season and also spoke volumes about the competitive drive of one of the youngest players on the team.

"It’s just for the guy next to you in the room, get the win for everybody," said the 21-year-old Graves. "Just do what it takes to win."

The Mallards are hoping to get Graves back this weekend for their two games against Idaho after the defenseman missed last Saturday's game with an upper body injury sustained on that blocked shot.

With a defense that's allowing nearly 37 shots per game through a 1-3-0 start, the Mallards know they need to shore up play in their own zone and Graves — one of four Mallards with a plus rating — would be a welcome addition.

Graves is with the Mallards after being reassigned from AHL Cleveland prior to the start of the season. It's his second stint in the ECHL after playing nine games with Cincinnati last season.

It's admittedly disappointing for Graves to be back in Double-A, but he understands the business, and is set on giving it his all while with the Flock.

"There were a lot of defensemen up in Cleveland," he said. "I’ve got a little more confidence here, they’ve given me some ice and it’s really awesome."

That attitude has been a welcome asset for QC coach Phil Axtell, who understands the effect coming down to the ECHL can have on a player.

"You have to have the right mentality, the mental toughness to go from an NHL camp to an (AHL) camp to the ECHL and keep the right mentality and stay positive, work hard every day to get better every day," Axtell said.

"His attitude has been spectacular. He’s had a pro mentality from the get-go and we couldn’t ask anything more from him."

Graves is the third-youngest player on the Mallards roster, but his maturity comes from being up around AHL and NHL caliber players. He signed a three-year entry level contract with NHL Columbus last year and spent most of the season with Triple-A Cleveland.

His time in the AHL last year was beneficial in learning how to carry himself as a professional and also keep mentally engaged when not in the lineup.

"That was the biggest thing for me," Graves said, "trying to get that consistency of even if you’re not playing, just when you get in, make sure you’re giving it your all and be consistent every shift, that’s what they want to see."

It was a big adjustment from juniors, where Graves helped the London Knights win the 2015-16 Memorial Cup, awarded to the Canadian Hockey League champion.

"I think we really clicked as a team," Graves said. "We knew what we had so let's just go do it."

It's two completely different teams, but Graves sees similarities between that London team and these Mallards.

"I've only been here a couple weeks but it's a good group of guys in the locker room and that's where it starts," he said. "Everyone is there for each other ... there's definitely winning to be had here."

Even that championship team endured a rough patch similar to the one the Mallards are experiencing right now. In late January, the Knights went 1-3-0, but responded with four straight wins.

The Mallards are hoping they can enjoy a similar response to their early-season struggles, starting tonight against the Idaho Steelheads.

"I feel like this is a big weekend," Graves said. "It would be nice if we could get a couple wins this week, get to 3-3 and get everyone a little off their back, off their toes, just calm down type of thing. Hopefully we can get the ball rolling."

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