Team officials stunned by revelation
A difficult hockey season for the Yellowstone Quake and first-year coach Craig Furstenau became more challenging last week following the surprising revelation that one of its goaltenders had lied about both his identity and his age in order to play.
“I've been around the sport pretty much all my life, and I've absolutely not heard of anything like this before,” said Furstenau.
In late October, the Quake coach thought he had signed Nikoe Giacomo, a 19-year-old from the Florida-based Palm Beach Hawks of the Atlantic Metropolitan Hockey League to shore up depth at the goaltending position. Giacomo reported to Cody and appeared in seven games this season, going 3-3 in net for the Quake.
Last Monday, however, Furstenau was informed by Cody Police that Giacomo was, in fact, Anthony Tocco, age 25. Tocco allegedly had stolen the identity of a cousin and had been using the persona for more than a year to play junior hockey, where the maximum age is 20.
“My understanding is that he was actually a very good player seven years ago,” Furstenau said of Tocco, who records indicate played for the USHL's Green Bay franchise in 2003. “He got in some trouble and I guess he wanted to create a second chance for himself.”
Tocco now finds himself in some legal trouble in Cody's Circuit Court, charged with a misdemeanor count of possessing fraudulent identification.
“It's basically the same charge you would get if you used a fake ID to buy booze,” said Deputy Park County Attorney Sam Krone, who is prosecuting the case.
Krone said it's the first time he's seen someone charged with pretending to be younger than they are, rather than older.
Tocco, who was arrested Nov. 29, has pleaded not guilty to the charge and a trial has been scheduled for next year.
The misdemeanor is punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a $750 fine.
News of Tocco's duplicity caught Quake personnel completely off guard.
“He had a Social Security card. He had a passport,” Furstenau said. “He was in the system and he exists as this 19-year-old. He had played in Florida under this identity. He completely checks out.”
Team president Bob Bole agreed.
“To be signed, a player has to be registered with USA Hockey, and they had verified him,” said Bole. “He had the identification.”
Ultimately, it was the real Nikoe Giacomo, who resides in Detroit, Mich., that tipped Cody Police off about the identity scam.
“If he hadn't been turned in, he completely would have gotten away with it,” said Furstenau. “There was nothing we could have done different and there was nothing to indicate he was anyone other than who he said he was.”
Once the deception was brought to light, Quake personnel moved swiftly to disassociate the team from Tocco.
“He was released from the team within an hour of us learning,” said Furstenau. “Obviously, we don't condone what he did in any way, shape or form.”
Regardless of its response, the Quake coach is certain the team will face some sort of repercussions from the North Pacific (NORPAC) League. Exactly what form those repercussions will take — forfeiting the three victories in which Tocco appeared would be one possible outcome —remains to be seen.
“We're cooperating with the league fully,” said Furstenau. “I honestly don't know what they'll decide, but there will definitely be some sort of an impact as a result of this incident.”
Depending on the nature of the league's ruling, the Quake could undertake some manner of legal action against Tocco.
“That's definitely a possibility,” said Bole, noting the Quake traded away a player to free up roster room and obtain Tocco. “That's a decision that would have to come from the board. We're victims of this whole blooming thing and we've been left hanging out there on it. Right now, we're just digesting what the heck has gone on these last 72 hours.”
Bole said the news of Tocco's deception took him by complete surprise. He met with the young man briefly late last week, but only to return Tocco's personal gear after team personnel cleaned out his locker.
“I really liked the young man,” Bole said. “We had some youth hockey players come practice with the team, and I was really impressed with how he worked with the kids. He was out there for more than an hour and a half just going non-stop with them.”
Bole said he is uncertain when the club might hear back from NORPAC regarding the incident. In the meantime, the Quake have moved to shore up the goaltending position. The club acquired Nic Wackerly from Helena on Saturday for a player to be named.
The Quake were 1-1 over the weekend, falling 4-1 to Billings on Friday before picking up a 5-4 win at Bozeman on Saturday.