12/08/2009 5:00 PM
Pinizzotto relishing his role on Hershey Bears
He's making most of his spot on Hershey's top penalty-killing unit.
By DAN SERNOFFSKY
For the Daily Record/Sunday News
HERSHEY -- No one said it was going to be easy, but as far as Steve Pinizzotto is concerned, that just means he has to keep working, keep doing what he's been doing and hope that he gets noticed.
For the most part, he's getting noticed now. Something of a spare part for most of the limited time he spent in Hershey in his first two pro seasons -- the extra forward who was willing to drop the gloves when necessary, who was willing to do what it took to earn ice time -- Pinizzotto suddenly blossomed late last season, and by the time the playoffs arrived, had become a checking-line regular. And a first-unit penalty-killer.
That translated into his full-time role this season doing exactly that, playing on the checking line and killing penalties.
The success Pinizzotto is now enjoying is nothing he really hasn't expected, largely because he continues to be willing to pay the price.
The price was apparent early. Pinizzotto wasn't drafted by a major junior hockey team, so he spent his junior career playing for the Junior A Oakville Blades in the OPJHL. Undrafted by the NHL, Pinizzotto turned to college when his junior career ended and spent two seasons skating for R.I.T.
"I started college kind of late," he said, "and I guess you could say I'm a late bloomer. That's the hockey term people use. I found my niche here, and I just want to keep going with it. Frenchie (Hershey head coach Mark French) likes what I'm doing, and I just want to keep it up."
Throughout his career, Pinizzotto has never shied away from physical play. He twice topped 150 minutes in penalties with Oakville, but in those same seasons, scored 16 and 17 goals. He scored 33 goals and 95 points while collecting 86 minutes in penalties in his final season with the Blades.
At R.I.T., Pinizzotto did his best to maintain the same pace, and in the 2006-07 season, had 13 goals and 44 points in 34 games while picking up 76 minutes in penalties. That wound up earning him a free-agent contract with Washington, and a ticket to Hershey, where he played in five games at the end of the season.
"I just tried to do what I could on the ice and hope I get noticed," said Pinizzotto. "We beat some pretty good teams when I was there (at R.I.T.)
Pinizzotto split his first full pro season between Hershey and South Carolina in the ECHL. Last season, he spent a month in South Carolina early in the season before returning to Hershey, where he slowly developed into the solid defensive forward who wound up playing a big role in the playoffs.
The playoff performance helped him earn a regular spot in the Hershey lineup and a spot on the No. 1 penalty-killing unit this season, but it didn't really surprise him.
"I don't know if it's a surprise (playing on the No. 1 penalty-killing unit), because I did it last year in the playoffs," said Pinizzotto, "but as you get games under your belt in this league, you get a little more comfortable with the thought, you get a little more patient, and you seem to create more opportunities. That's kinda what I'm trying to do right now."
Creating opportunities, particularly scoring opportunities, is one area in which Pinizzotto has been working hard to improve.
"I wish I could be a little more offensive," he said, "but I think that will come in time. I've got the tools to do it, it just takes time. But as long as I'm doing my job when I'm out there, everything's good."
The offense is coming. Pinizzotto is tied for the AHL lead with three short-handed goals, and he's scored two more even-strength goals while picking up five assists. That has been helping to build his confidence. It's also helped French develop further confidence in him.
"It's a huge thing," Pinizzotto said about his increased playing time this season, "especially when Frenchie throws you out there in overtime. You know he's got confidence in you, and when the coach does, that always makes it easier on yourself. I like the role I'm playing now. You learn something every day. The opportunity's there, and hopefully, I can continue it."