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PINIZZOTTO BRINGS A SPARK JUST IN TIME

By Chad Hudson,

Imagine having a routine you get used to. A routine that is the same thing nearly everyday to kick off your new career you’ve dreamed about since you were born.

Now imagine having that routine flipped upside down, all the continuity taken away and having to say goodbye to all the people you’ve developed a relationship with.

And imagine that after all that, you’d still thrive in your role.

That’s what Steve Pinizzotto has done since he was traded to the Oklahoma City Barons, the first time he had ever been traded in his hockey career.

Pinizzotto, or Pinner as he’s known in the locker room, laced up the skates for the Oakville Blades for five seasons during juniors in the Ontario Junior Hockey League.

After that he went on to play two years at the Rochester Institute of Technology (R.I.T.) in NCAA Division I’s Atlantic Hockey League.

The continuity continued into this professional career, where he spent his first five seasons with the Hershey Bears of the AHL, with two stints with their ECHL affiliate, the South Carolina Stingrays, mixed in.

After those years, Pinizzotto lost touch with that continuity, but he found himself in the NHL with a promising chance to stick with the Vancouver Canucks.

Injuries played a major part in derailing the momentum he had built in his first few years in professional hockey, but he hasn’t let that stop him. Pinizzotto’s drive is something his former college coach, Wayne Wilson, still admires.

“He had some really unfortunate injuries when the door [to the NHL] was just being open for him,” Wilson said. “But he still brings a lot of energy to the game.”

Wilson is the head coach at R.I.T., and hasn’t coached Pinizzotto since the 2006-07 season, yet he still remembered the moments like they were yesterday.

“He’s someone we are still trying to replace on our team here even after all these years,” Wilson said.

Wilson, as well as Barons Head Coach Todd Nelson, mentioned the energy and spark that Pinizzotto brings to the game. The injuries that caused adversity in Pinizzotto’s career were also mentioned, but this year has been a healthy one for him.

In 2013-14, he was assigned to the San Antonio Rampage where he’d play in 21 games before the Oklahoma City Barons traded Ryan Martindale and Derek Nesbitt for Pinizzotto and Jack Combs.

The trade came as a major surprise to a player just figuring out how to deal with change.

“It was shocking, you know, I spent a lot of time in Hershey, then coming to San Antonio I was just getting to know those guys and then I was gone,” Pinizzotto said.

But he reported to Oklahoma City, and didn’t miss a beat. His spark in the line up came at a time where the Barons themselves were finding continuity as transactions began to slow and Coach Nelson was seeing the same guys in the lineup and on the ice for practice.

“I think anytime there’s a trade it kind of sparks a team,” Nelson said. “It kind of gives us a spark, especially in Steve’s case, it’s just the way he plays, it gives our team a bit of a swagger and that’s exactly what our team needed at the time [of the trade].”

Pinner brings an edge to his game, playing a hard-nosed, two-way style, which he takes from a fellow Mississauga, Ontario native, Steve Ott.

Pinizzotto said that Ott’s style is what he likes to bring to the table, the type of play that gets under the skin of the opponent, but in a smart manner where he gives his team a psychological advantage as well.

It’s something Wilson remembered fondly, noting that Pinizzotto is a laid-back, quiet guy off the ice, but once he steps through the boards, the switch goes on and he plays with a reckless abandon.

“He’s very vocal in the game, with his teammates, even with his opponents,” Wilson said with a laugh. “He just brought everything he had to every game.”

That spark is not only benefitting Pinizzotto, as the Barons have seen success since he was first plugged into the lineup.

The playoff run is an exciting time for all the players, staff and fans, but Pinizzotto recognizes that he wants to play in the NHL again after getting a taste. He came back to the AHL recognizing he must work on some things to get back there, but his attitude about it is admirable.

“You can’t sit and sulk about [not being in the NHL], you just can’t. At the end of the day, that’s where everyone wants to be, but I’m here [in Oklahoma City] to put in my time and work,” he said.

The playoff push is on his mind and his style of play is quickly garnering him the fan-favorite status many of the gritty, hard-working guys obtain.

It’s something he embraces and enjoys.

Pinizzotto wants to be known as a “classy, gritty, hard-working two-way forward that does [his] job on a night-in, night-out basis.”

They say the numbers speak for themselves, and while Pinizzotto does plenty of talking to get under the skin of his opponents, the 12-4-0-1 record since trading for Pinizzotto speaks loud and clear.

While R.I.T. is still looking to replace Pinizzotto’s presence, the Barons and the fans are just beginning to embrace it.

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