JD Greenway followed his older brother in just about everything.
Into hockey. Into prep school. Into a high-end development program. Into the NHL draft.
Jordan Greenway, 14 months older, acted as a hockey role model for JD, but not everything could be the same.
At one point, Jordan was a defenseman and JD a forward; it’s the other way around now. Jordan decided Boston University was the place where he’d take the next step in continuing his track to the pros.
JD, meanwhile, is showing signs he could develop into a star for the University of Wisconsin. The movements that led him to college and to Madison, however, weren’t quite as straightforward.
In the end — following the pattern with the Greenway brothers — Jordan’s experience played into JD’s outcome.
JD had formed a connection with former USA Hockey National Team Development Program assistant coach John Gruden, who last year was coaching the Flint Firebirds of the major junior Ontario Hockey League. Flint owned JD’s rights, so that’s where he intended to play this season.
But Gruden was fired, rehired and fired again last season as the Flint organization spiraled into tumult, sending JD’s future into question.
“I figured playing under him would be awesome,” JD said. “Then things happened over there and it just didn’t work out the way I wanted it to.”
Because it was widely known that he was going to play major junior hockey, JD didn’t have a college alternative.
“I closed some doors for myself,” he said.
Everything changed in late March when Don Granato, who had coached Jordan with the National Team Development Program, joined the new UW coaching staff of his brother, Tony.
“When the Granatos got the job,” JD said, “I was really wanting to come here because Don ... made my brother a really great player.”
The Badgers are hoping to see the same thing happen for JD Greenway, who in his first few weeks playing has shown the traits advertised when he became a third-round NHL selection in June.
He’s a raw talent who has a calm demeanor and a knack for handling the puck in tight spaces. At 6-foot-5 and 210 pounds, he’s big but mobile.
There also have been times when the raw part of his talent has come through. Tony Granato said Greenway, 18, has been inconsistent through four weeks of the season in adjusting to what the coaches are asking from defensemen.
“He gets some of it, and some of it he gets back on his heels and puts himself in a position that we’re not looking to have him in,” Granato said.
Badgers associate head coach Mark Osiecki, who works with the team’s defensemen, said Greenway might not yet have an appreciation for how good he’s going to be later in his career if he keeps improving.
So coaches have been showing him NHL clips to demonstrate the kind of game they think he can reach if he develops a consistently high level.
“That’s what he has to understand at some point — ‘I can do this every shift and every drill,’ ” Osiecki said. “Once he gets to that consistency level, who knows how high he’s going to go.”
Greenway said he sees the inconsistencies in his game that the coaches are talking about.
“Sometimes I go out there with a mindset where I need to do something different and that runs me into trouble,” he said. “But the main thing is I just need to keep my game simple. I can’t go out there and try to (skate) end to end every time.”
There was little simple about how Greenway ended up at UW but he’s about to experience one of the small perks. The Badgers’ non-conference games Friday at No. 18 St. Lawrence and Saturday at Clarkson take him back home to the North Country of New York.
From Canton, New York, Greenway grew up playing at St. Lawrence’s Appleton Arena, wanting to play for the Saints.
Because he left home to follow in his brother’s footsteps at Shattuck-St. Mary’s prep school in Minnesota and for the Michigan-based National Team Development Program, Greenway hasn’t played in front of as many family members and friends as he’s expecting to see this weekend.
“The whole family’s excited,” he said. “I’m excited and nervous as well, playing in front of that many people you actually know.”