VANCOUVER – Steve Pinizzotto is playing the waiting game, which is nothing new.
At times, Pinizzotto feels like he has been waiting forever for his chance to prove to the doubters — and there have been more than a few of those — that he has what it takes to play in the NHL.
The current lockout just means he has to wait a little longer. And while he waits, Pinizzotto has been continuing to make a favourable impression with the Vancouver Canucks.
Heading into Tuesday night’s game against the Milwaukee Admirals, Pinizzotto has a share of the scoring lead with the AHL’s Chicago Wolves. He has nine points in 14 games and has scored four goals in his last five games.
“I feel like it’s getting there,” Pinizzotto said Monday. “I still feel like my timing is not 100 per cent.”
That’s understandable. Pinizzotto missed all of last season after injuring his shoulder in a Canuck pre-season game when it looked like he was going to crack the team out of training camp.
“I have been put on a line with some offensive guys in Andrew Ebbett and Darren Haydar and I feel like I’m a guy who can make some pretty good plays, not just stir things up,” he said. “I feel like I’ve got more to give. We are only 14 games into it, but I think I’m a pretty reliable offensive guy who when put in a good spot can make plays.”
That’s part of the reason the Canucks like him. The other part is Pinizzotto’s physical presence. He finishes every check, which endears him to head coach Alain Vigneault, who loves his grit and willingness to drop the gloves. The Canucks figure to give Pinizzotto, a right winger, a chance to crack their fourth line at what would be a short post-lockout training camp.
“He has been a force lately,” Canuck assistant general manager Lorne Henning said Monday. “He is doing the things we saw last year in training camp. He’s skating well, he’s finishing his checks, going hard to the net, just creating space all over the ice. The one thing he’s got is a real heavy shot. . .He has good offensive instincts and he’s a big part of the penalty-killing unit down there. He’s a gritty, hard-nosed player.”
Pinizzotto’s next NHL game will be his first. The waiting has not been easy. If a player is going to get his NHL shot, it usually happens before age 28.
“It usually happens quicker for most guys, but I consider myself a late, late bloomer given my age,” he said. “But again, it’s opportunity. It happens differently for everybody. I think the route I have taken and the adversity I have faced has made me a better player.”
Before signing with the Canucks last season, Pinizzotto languished in the minor league system of the Washington Capitals. Despite two solid seasons with the Hershey Bears, during which time he registered 83 points and 302 penalty minutes, Pinizzotto never got a sniff with the Capitals.
“We had some unbelievable teams in Hershey and I felt like I did everything I could over there. I felt like I turned some heads, but I guess sometimes things just don’t work out. I don’t think (former Caps’ coach) Bruce Boudreau really liked my game enough to bring me up. It was just time for me to move on.
“Coming to Vancouver I feel like I am a guy that can give them what they need. They showed the most interest in me and I feel like they still have a lot of faith in me, so I am looking forward to having an opportunity to join the big club.”
When, or if, Canuck training camp does happen, Pinizzotto likes to think he’ll have an edge because he has been playing regularly.
“It’s a lot better than sitting at home on the couch, that’s for sure, and it’s especially important for me because I missed a full year last year. It’s kind of a blessing in disguise coming down here to play, getting back into game shape and learning the system down here. The level of this league right now is pretty high and the fact that so many guys aren’t playing hockey, it’s a huge advantage to be playing.”
ICE CHIPS: The Wolves, after opening the season with four straight wins, have lost four of their last five games. “They are playing hard, but they are just having trouble scoring goals,” Henning said. . .The Wolves are currently second in the AHL’s Midwest Division with a record of 7-5-2.