OXFORD, Ohio – Joey Cassetti is tied for second on Miami with nine goals, and he just eclipsed his career high in points.

But the journey to his current collegiate apex has been arduous, both physically and mentally.

The 6-feet, four-inch center has battled numerous injuries, COVID and confidence issues. Yet he has emerged playing some of the best hockey of his Division I career down the stretch run of his senior season.

“I think his game has gone up gradually in three years, but I think this year he’s also taken a big jump,” senior defenseman and captain Jack Clement said. “It comes with being a senior and being an older guy, but his confidence with the puck and just being able to use his body and not giving up possession easily is what we’ve needed and what he’s (done) this year. He’s totally capable of taking the faceoffs and the special teams – he’s always been good at that – so rounding out his game has been cool to see.”

Cassetti was born and raised in Pleasanton, Calif., his mother, Kim’s hometown, and his Long Island-native father Rob instilled his love of hockey.

Cassetti also played baseball and soccer through eighth grade, but he dropped both entering high school to concentrate on hockey.

“I was always getting red cards in soccer, and baseball, I really couldn’t hit anyone, so I kind of liked hockey a little bit more,” Cassetti said.

With the Under-14 Jr. Sharks in the Bay Area, Cassetti racked up 12 goals and 14 assists in 15 games, proving he was destined for better things, and he ended up in the Detroit area playing for the Under-16 Oakland Jr. Grizzlies the next two seasons.

His 12-goal, 15-assist performance with the Triple-A program in 2015-16 earned him a spot on the U.S. National Development Team.

Cassetti skated for the U.S. in the Under-17 World Championships, where he scored two goals and added a helper in five games.

“Growing up in California, I never imagined that I could do something like that, being able to play with the best kids from across the United States in my age group at the time,” Cassetti said. “It was awesome, and the level of competition was great.”

From there, Cassetti spent two more seasons in the USHL with Waterloo, where he scored 20 goals and earned 17 assists in 2018-19.

Cassetti scores against Colorado College (photo by Cathy Lachmann/VFTG).

Cassetti had committed to Merrimack, where he began his freshman season in the fall of 2019. He loved the Boston area and felt like he would have a chance to rack up tons of minutes with the Warriors.

But through 14 games, he had just two assists and had lost that juniors swagger.

“I was struggling pretty heavily with my confidence at Merrimack, and I really wanted to get that back,” Cassetti said. “I loved the guys on the team, but I didn’t think that — playing college hockey — maybe that wasn’t the spot for me.”

So Cassetti decided to enter the transfer portal midway through the season.

“I found myself not very happy — a lot of it stemmed from hockey – and I held Waterloo so close to my heart,” Cassetti said. “I knew if I were to go back there, I figured I would find a place that I would be more comfortable at, and I did.”

He returned to Waterloo for the second half of that season as an overager and racked up 11 more goals in 22 games. In three seasons and 126 games with the Black Hawks, he found the net 39 times and added 35 assists.

“I had amazing coaches in Waterloo that really helped me,” Cassetti said. “I had amazing coaches everywhere, but P.K. O’Handley and Shane Fukushima when I was there, they were a huge of part of helping with my confidence and maturing me not only as a player but as a person. I think that really helped my hockey career as a whole.”

Miami assistant coach Barry Schutte attended a game in which Cassetti recorded a hat trick vs. Madison, and Cassetti decided to make an official visit to Miami.

Cassetti already was acquainted with Derek Daschke and Rourke Russell from their Oakland Jr. Grizzlies days, and when he came to Oxford, he knew he had found his second home.

“Everyone on the team was great – really loved everyone right off the bat – and the staff made me feel me at home,” Cassetti said. “It’s a beautiful campus as well, and I’ve always loved the Midwest.”

But Cassetti’s college relaunch didn’t exactly follow script.

He spent the summer of 2020 back home in Northern California Home in California, then finally he was allowed on campus in his new hometown, where he could return to practicing and pretending the past six months had been a bad dream, right?

“I remember we got here and a bunch of guys got COVID, I think (Coach Chris Bergeron) ended up getting COVID, so when we were supposed to start practicing, we had to delay it another 10 days,” Cassetti said.

As the evenings started getting chillier, the NCHC took the adventurous step of turning Baxter Arena into a bubble for 21 days, with each team to play 10 games in that window under strict testing guidance and with minimal outsider contact.

Cassetti had to sit out the first two games due to transfer eligibility issues and was slated to start in the third against Minn.-Duluth, but then he received news that he would not begin his Miami career in the Omaha Pod.

“I was feeling great, was so excited to be able to play, and a day before I was eligible to play, I tested positive for COVID and had to miss the remaining games of the Pod,” Cassetti said.

Cassetti in his first season with Miami as a sophomore (photo by Cathy Lachmann/VFTG).

So Cassetti was quarantined for weeks, holed up in an Omaha hotel room as his teammates completed their 10-game schedule in the bubble, and finally everyone returned home several days before Christmas.

“That whole situation, that wasn’t a great experience for him,” Clement said. “He was so fired up to play his first game in a Miami uniform, but then he gets told in the first day of the Pod that has to quarantine…he was in quarantine the whole time we were there. That was frustrating for him. He couldn’t leave his room at all, and we were dropping snacks off for him and he was ordering DoorDash, but that was a hard time for him, but we also missed him and could’ve used him on the ice as well.”

Said Cassetti: “I had the X-Box, and thankfully Omaha has really good food, but it was pretty brutal. All that was foreshadowing to all the injuries and other stuff I was going to go through the next two years after that.”

Finally, Cassetti finally made his Miami debut at Western Michigan on Jan. 2, 2021. Miami won, 3-1.  

“Specifically in the first game I remember we’re in Kalamazoo, and I just wanted to help the team in any way,” Cassetti said. “I remember the first shift, I just wanted to hit someone hard and I hit someone pretty hard. Shoulders kind of hurt the rest of the weekend.”

The next night, not only did the RedHawks win again, Cassetti scored his first two collegiate goals, including the game winner at MU completed the sweep of the Broncos, 5-1.

Cassetti’s goals came just over two minutes apart early in the second period – both on the power play.

“That was a really, really good feeling, especially after the whole Pod thing,” Cassetti said.

He was banged up the second half of the season and missed two separate weekend series.

Cassetti celebrates a Miami goal at Ferris State in the 2021-22 season opener (photo by Cathy Lachmann/VFTG).

In 2021-22, as a junior, Cassetti netted three goals in the first five games, but once again he could not catch a break in terms of health.

He missed time with back issues, a severe non-COVID illness and a torn labrum that would require surgery after the season. Still, in 25 games he notched six goals and six assists.

“It’s pretty tough thinking in two years until that point I’d played a total of 36 games, which is usually just one full season, to realistically for the past two years I’ve played one season,” Cassetti said. “I’ve had injuries before, but no so many reoccurring ones, and that took a lot on my mental state. But I worked really hard this summer rehabbing my shoulder, and eating well and sleeping well and really focusing on how to maintain my body and not put myself at risk of getting hurt, and so far this year I’ve done a pretty good job of that.”

He has missed just two games this season, and that was after a friendly-fire clearing attempt clipped him in the head in late January.

Cassetti is tied with John Waldron for the team lead in goals, one behind Matthew Barbolini. He netted a pair in Saturday’s 4-1 win over Minn.-Duluth, which was just the second multi-goal game by a RedHawk this season.

Cassetti scores the first weekend of this season against Ferris State (photo by Cathy Lachmann/VFTG).

But there’s more to Cassetti’s game than scoring. He is one of the RedHawks’ most physical skaters, and he has laid out some highlight-reel punishment over his career.

The 205-pounder is also one of the team’s better defensive forwards and a solid penalty killer who continues to improve on faceoffs.

“He’s really fun to watch when he’s right and he’s using his big frame and he’s moving his feet and he’s winning faceoffs, that’s all Joe Cassetti,” Clement said. “He’s a special player to have on your team. Just being able to use his big body and get positioning people on people and being able to win battles in front of the net, taking the goalie’s eyes away at that size and being able to fight for ice, and also he’s got a lot of skill to go with that big frame.”

No one knows how tough Cassetti is to play against than Clement, who, as a right defenseman, regularly has to defend Cassetti in practice.

“When you’re going into a corner and it’s you and him, and we have 1-on-1 battles, it’s tough,” Clement said. “When he’s got the puck and I’m trying to get it from him, he’s really good at using his body and protecting that thing.”

As tough as Cassetti is at the rink, Clement said he has a softer side off the ice.

“He’s a genuine guy that will go out of his way to ask you how you’re doing, especially if you’re struggling with things, he’s a guy that’s willing to listen, which I respect a lot – I think that’s one of his best qualities,” Clement said. “And if you’re ever looking for a laugh, he’s hilarious as well.”

Despite the overall gauntlet Cassetti has run in three years at Miami, he has 17 career goals in 65 games – including eight on the power play – and 12 assists.

And he has enjoyed every minute he has spent in Oxford.

“I’m not sure if I’m ever going to have as much fun as I’ve had here,” Cassetti said. “The past three years I’ve made so many good friends, all my teammates have been great, and I’ve loved them all, especially this specific year, this has been a tight-knit group of guys. I have memories that will last me a lifetime.”


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