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Being Assam

North Medford hockey player finds success on the ice with boundless creativity

Typically one to tinker with his sport, Gianni Assam couldn't help himself last Saturday when he gathered the puck behind the opposing goal at the RRRink.

The North Medford junior forward scooped the puck up onto the blade of his hockey stick, carried it through the air and deposited it into the net past Crater goalie George Williamson for one of his five goals in the 9-3 victory.

It was an exact replica of a move dubbed The Michigan after former Wolverines center Mike Legg, who pulled off what many have described as the greatest goal scored in an organized hockey game when he did it in the 1996 West Regionals against Minnesota. The much-replayed goal went on to earn an ESPY on ESPN as the most outrageous play of the year, and Legg had his stick placed in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Not surprisingly, pulling off the move Saturday sent Assam into a frenzy as he high-fived just about everyone he could get a hand on.

It's probably the craziest thing I've ever seen go down here, says the 16-year-old. It was amazing and one of my greatest moments in hockey ever.

— For North Medford head coach Coy Bear Iacono, it was simply Gianni being Gianni.

He's an inventive kid and creative, says Iacono. He's the kid that'll do something new to his stick just because he thinks it's going to improve his game.

It makes my job easy to have boys like Gianni, adds the coach. He's passionate about the sport, and the game goes to a different level for our team when he's out there.

Assam ranks among the top scorers in the Rogue Valley Youth Hockey Association with eight goals and two assists (10 points) in three games entering Saturday's 8 p.m. match with rival South Medford at the RRRink.

Leading the way with 11 points apiece, South's Jared Adamson (five games) and Ashland's Casey Skolnik (four games) each boast nine goals and two assists, while Anthony Olsen of Klamath Falls has seven goals and four assists. Ashland's Tiffany Schoonover is tied with Assam thanks to nine goals and one assist in four games.

All that points to just how far Assam has come since his days in Arizona when, at age 9, he saw a flyer at school on ice hockey and couldn't get to the rink quick enough.

As somewhat of a natural, Assam took classes on hockey and within two months found himself on a 10-and-under traveling squad.

His passion for the game has only grown stronger in the years since that introduction.

It's the fastest sport you can get into, besides maybe racing, says Assam, who moved to Medford prior to his sophomore year. It takes a lot of concentration and personal skill.

While it sounds easy, the 5-foot-9, 159-pounder says playing hockey is much harder than it looks.

Skating seems easy because you're going faster than it would be running, he says, but the hardest thing I've done you could maybe compare it to is running up a sand dune.

The grueling aspect notwithstanding, Assam couldn't pass up a sport that involves limitless creativity.

You have the puck and there's four other guys you can pass to so there's so many options, he says. And then there's options off what they do after you give them the puck. It's a spider web of what you can do.

That spiderweb, however, tends to wind up with Assam scoring goals.

He's in the right place at the right time making the right decisions, says Iacono, who was an assistant at North last year in the program's debut. North and South formed a combined team two years ago.

It's a role that simply comes natural, and certainly involves linemates Duston Fender, Sam Jossie, Matthew McClure and Cameron Myers.

You just have to have the eye for scoring, says Assam, the assistant captain. It's something that some people have and some people don't.

That scoring eye will need to be well-trained on Saturday for the Black Tornado (1-2) to upend the talent-rich Panthers (0-2).

It's going to be a great game because they've got such great players, says Assam, whose Tornado took two of the three matches with South last season. Jared Adamson's amazing and the Webers (Kevin and Patrick) are great players, too. We're just going to skate hard and if the puck goes our way, we'll win the game. They're going to be a tough team to beat.

But should North get its way, it's a safe bet that Assam will be involved and up to his creative ways once again.

And maybe an Assam move won't be too far away.

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 776-4488, or e-mail Being Assam"khenry@mailtribune.com.