Shane Pinto had done it 31 times in college and 16 times in USPHL games, so he’s had the experience of scoring a goal - but nothing beats that first NHL marker.
On May 5, in his new home of Ottawa, Ont., the former USPHL 16U and 18U standout pounded home a pass from Ottawa Senators teammate Artyom Zub to give him his first NHL goal in just his ninth game in the world’s No. 1 hockey league.
“I just saw Zubey [Artyom Zub] going down low and went to the far post and luckily it came to me and I fired it pretty hard into the back of the net,” Pinto said in a Senators video about the goal. “If you watch the replay I don’t think I had to shoot it that hard but I’m just happy it went in.”
Pinto, a former South Kent Selects Academy player in the USPHL in 2016-17 (USPHL 16U) and 2017-18 (USPHL 18U), has played in nine NHL games as of May 6. In addition to his time with the Selects squad, he’d also played for USPHL Member Organization the New York Aviators in his first 16U season, though outside of the USPHL.
He signed on April 1 after completing his outstanding second season of hockey at the University of North Dakota, earning Hobey Baker Hat Trick honors, plus First Team All-American, and NCHC Player Of The Year, Forward Of The Year and Defensive Forward Of The Year.
He is certainly enjoying every moment of the experience so far going back to his first game on April 17 at Montreal, as he recounted in an exclusive interview with USPHL.com.
“Obviously, the first game, you’re trying to enjoy the first moment. Each day, you become more and more comfortable, and gain more confidence, and confidence goes a long way in performance,” said Pinto, the day after scoring his first goal. “I’ve only played in nine games so far, so I look forward to having a big summer and coming back ready [for a full season in 2021-22]. These first nine games have definitely been beneficial to me.”
Pinto, a native of Franklin Park, N.Y., grew up right outside of an “Original Six” city (New York), so the lustre of beginning his career in another Original Six city (Montreal) was certainly not lost on him, especially as his team sent him out for the traditional NHL debut solo lap ahead of warmups.
“It was unbelievable, going to the solo lap. You know it’s coming. You work hard as a kid to be here, so I’m very grateful to have that opportunity,” said Pinto, who earned his first NHL point (an assist) in that first NHL appearance.
Pinto was also quickly introduced to the NHL travel lifestyle, whisked away to one city after another for his first four contests. After his debut in Montreal, he was in Calgary for his second game three days later, and then in Vancouver for a pair as well before returning home one day later to face Vancouver in Ottawa.
“It threw me right into the fire on a night to night basis with the travel, learning how to take care of your body as a pro, how to handle it,” said Pinto. “It was definitely a cool experience to go on an away road trip.”
He had seen plenty of travel as well during his years with North Dakota and in the USHL prior to that. However, rather than having schoolwork to occupy his time, he’s had to alter his time management a little.
“The biggest difference is the time. We have a lot of downtime in the NHL. In college, you’re going to classes between the games and practices. You find ways to bide your time,” said Pinto. “Canada’s in lockdown, so it’s really just been rink to house and back. It’s been a bit of a grind, hopefully next year opens up.”
Moving Up In The USPHL
After a productive 16U season with the Aviators, Pinto moved on to his first USPHL 16U season in 2017-18, and describes that - and his next season in the USPHL 18U - as certainly important to his development.
“It feels like a long time ago. It’s been a crazy journey from there, but there is where I learned my work ethic,” said Pinto. “In the USPHL, I learned I was definitely not good enough [for the next level] yet, and I had to put in the work there the next couple years. I learned it was a high level and I had to get better at this game.”
Joining another future NHLer - the New York Rangers’ Zac Jones - on the 16U team in 2016-17, Pinto remembered the great talent on that team - and the bitter feeling of disappointment in the end. A year later, the Selects - again with Pinto and Jones - capitalized on their talent, winning the USPHL 18U title as well as the USA Hockey Tier I National Championship.
“The USPHL prepared us for a National Championships run [in 2017], but we did not win that year. We won the USPHL 18U which fueled the momentum to win the National Championship. Each game was a battle and that got us ready for the National Championship.”
During Pinto’s time in the USPHL, he also earned his NCAA Division I commitment to North Dakota.
“The whole process of getting recruited is cool to go through when you’re younger. Players should enjoy it,” said Pinto. “I give all the credit to the North Dakota coaching staff. They are special people, the facilities are great, and I’m so happy I ended up there. I wouldn’t be half the player I am without the people there at UND.”
Pinto said that he had mixed feelings when he found out he was one of the top three “Hobey Hat Trick” finalists for the Hobey Baker Award - only because it was around the same time UND’s season ended in the longest NCAA Division I game in history, a five-OT loss to Minnesota-Duluth on March 27.
“I didn’t care too much about the Hobey at the time, because I was so upset about losing the five-OT game. Looking back now, it’s such an honor,” said Pinto. “When you get into college, you want to be the best player, and to be Top Three is pretty cool. Cole Caufield [of Wisconsin, now with Montreal] certainly deserves that award.
“I went into this year with the same mindset - I can always get better. You always have to hold yourself accountable, which is what has always pushed me to that next level,” Pinto added.
The next level for Pinto - the NHL - has been different in 2020-21, especially in Canada where fans have not been permitted to attend games in any capacity.
“It’s so surreal, but you’re just happy to go out for that solo lap,” said Pinto. “I’m just excited for next year, as I’ve been told by the other players it’s not even close to what it’s like with fans. Hopefully we’ll get the fans back next year and get to travel into the U.S. for games as well.”