McGrath, Nagy blue-line brothers at Holy Cross

| Thursday, Dec. 13, 2012, 8:58 p.m.

Ryan McGrath and Nilan Nagy grew up about 12 miles apart in suburban Pittsburgh.

It took them another 600 miles to become teammates.

The two defensemen are key parts of the College of Holy Cross hockey team this season.

McGrath, a junior, grew up in Mt. Lebanon, while Nagy, a sophomore, lived in Canonsburg.

They never met, though, until McGrath's freshman year at Holy Cross when Nagy visited the Worcester, Mass., campus.

“I had heard of him, but we never met personally,” McGrath said. “I ran into him on his visit, and he said he's from Canonsburg. It was really, really neat when I found out. It turns out we had a lot of mutual friends from back home. It's a neat experience to have two guys out here from Western Pennsylvania. We've become extremely close friends over the last two years.”

The two, who spend their summers in Pittsburgh, worked out together two summers ago before Nilan's freshman season with the Crusaders.

“The offseason I spent training with Ryan definitely helped me prepare to get stronger and faster,” Nagy said. “College hockey is a big step, but I was able to handle it.”

Nagy, a 6-foot, 196-pounder, played in 30 games for Holy Cross during his freshman season. He had six assists. This year, he had two goals and an assist in the team's first 10 games.

“It was a big adjustment coming in as a freshman. I had to work hard to be able to get in, especially with a lot of older guys,” he said. “I played junior hockey before I got here and that definitely helped me prepare for college. Going into my sophomore year, I kind of feel a little more relaxed. I know what to expect, and know how to prepare mentally.”

McGrath, 5-10, 195, played in one game his freshman year and nine games last season when he had a goal and two assists. He had one assist in the team's first seven games this season.

“We both play a very blue-collar, hard-working defensive game,” McGrath said. “None of us will put up that many points. We pride ourselves on our reliability in the defensive zone. We want to move the puck out, block shots and move bodies away from the front of the net.”

The two are waiting to play together as a defensive pairing.

“We like to bang the body in practice and get under guys' skin. If they do put us together, I think that'd be a pretty lethal combination on the point,” Nagy said.

Added McGrath: “More so than any other position, defensemen definitely bond the most. Somebody cracked a joke about having the Steel City kids on the blue line together. Just to have two of eight defensemen from Pittsburgh is quite special.”

It has worked well so far for the Crusaders. They rolled to a 7-2-1 record in their first 10 games and were near the top of the Atlantic Hockey Association standings. Last year, they made it to the AHA quarterfinals.

“We're off to a fantastic start. I think we can credit it to the team buying into Coach Pearl's system,” McGrath said. “We're an extremely young team with 11 freshmen. Fortunately, we've been able to get them on board quickly. They all bought into the system well. I credit our veteran leadership to get them on the same page.”

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