Senior Spring: Will Graber leads the Big Green on and off the ice
Will Graber '20 finished his collegiate career with 95 total points and signed with the Hershey Bears, the American Hockey League affiliate of the Washington Capitals.
Will Graber ’20 is no stranger to scoring in Thompson Arena. After four years with the Big Green, Graber finished his career with 95 points overall, frequently leading the team in assists and helping the men’s hockey team across the finish line in many games.
Whether it’s being named All-Ivy League Second Team as a sophomore after leading the Big Green with 26 points and 17 assists, transitioning between positions while balancing an injury or leading the team in scoring while playing the blueline, Graber always worked hard on the rink. He helped lead the Big Green to its first Ledyard Classic win since 2015 and featured prominently in big wins against top-ranked Clarkson College and Cornell University. What’s more, he scored the first goal in this year’s ever-popular tennis ball game against Princeton.
Graber’s hockey career began at age six when an outdoor ice rink opened a few blocks from his house. The youngest of four athletic siblings, Graber was eager to take up a sport of his own, and he quickly excelled.
“From there, I just outgrew that little outdoor rink and went to the closest youth hockey program, and just one step at a time moved up from there,” Graber said.
As the only member of his family to play hockey, Graber didn’t have a clear view of the path to a career after high school. But from a young age, he held collegiate hockey in the back of his mind as a long-term goal. When he was about 17 years old, his dream started to become a reality.
“At that point, I was thinking about what else I wanted from college,” Graber said, “I knew that I wanted to use hockey to get a good education.”
That desire for a fulfilling academic experience brought Ivy League schools onto his radar. When asked what set Dartmouth apart from other schools, Graber noted that when he visited campus, he was struck by the love that Dartmouth students appeared to have for the school.
When he first stepped onto the ice at Thompson Arena, one aspect of his game was particularly evident to head coach Bob Gaudet ’81.
“He’s incredibly competitive,” Gaudet said. “I saw that day one on the ice with him as a freshman.”
Graber said that his competitive drive helped him adapt to an unfamiliar position when, in his freshman season, he was moved from center to defense.
When asked about Graber’s strengths on the ice, Gaudet cited his versatility as a player.
“Someone who can play forward and defense is really rare in this game,” Gaudet said. “He was able to transition from position to position pretty seamlessly through the year, from the weekend before playing center for us to the next weekend playing defense, so I think we’ll really miss his skill level and his versatility as a player.”
Quin Foreman ’21, who consistently played on the same line as Graber since November of Foreman’s freshman year, echoed Gaudet’s praise of Graber’s versatility and competitive nature.
“He was kind of like a Swiss army knife,” Foreman said. “And he didn’t really brush much under the rug, which could be a knock, but I thought it was a testament to his character … Instead of pushing [hard work] off to someone else, he understood that he had to perform every night and give it his all.”
Gaudet is hopeful that underclassmen on the team learned from Graber and his tendency to lead by example.
“[W]hen the guys like [Graber], graduating seniors, kind of pass the torch on to the younger guys, I think that some of his positive strengths will help lead the guys in the future,” Gaudet said.
Graber’s work ethic doesn't stop when he unlaces his skates. Off the rink, he has pursued a major in engineering, balancing a rigorous course load with early morning practices and weekend travel for away games.
“He’s an extremely bright kid,” Gaudet said. “To be able to go through that course load, play Division I hockey and be as versatile as he was and adaptable to play different positions, is difficult and he managed it really well.”
As an incoming freshman, Graber worried that because he had completed high school online and had taken time off after graduating to play in the United States Hockey League, he would be unprepared for college-level courses. However, he quickly found his groove and was named Academic All-Ivy League for both the 2018-19 and 2019-20 academic years.
On top of academic and athletic responsibilities, Graber has been involved with Dartmouth’s First Year Trips program, through which he led two trips and spent the last few weeks of the summer before his senior year in northern New Hampshire as a member of Grant Croo.
“[Graber] is definitely not a stereotypical hockey player,” Foreman said. “He’s very much into nature, climbing, hiking … he’s kind of a different type of kid.”
While the team and the setting will soon change for Graber, the rink will remain in his life. At the end of the 2019-20 season, he was signed by the Hershey Bears, the American Hockey League affiliate of the Washington Capitals.
When asked about his thought process in pursuing professional hockey, Graber looked back to his days on the outdoor rink by his house.
“When they’re a kid, everyone wants to see how far they can take their sport … Over the last four years here, that’s been in the back of my head,” Graber said.
Looking back on his four years in Hanover, Graber knows that his fondest memories will be those on the ice. Although Dartmouth brought him new friends and experiences, hockey has always been a constant in his life.
“You can always count on going to the rink,” Graber said. “Whether you’re excited to go to the rink or not on that particular day, you know that you’re going to see some of your best friends and it’s going to be a good time. I think that’s the thing I’ll miss the most.”