By Jamie Neugebauer
His name is Patrick Piacentini.
Forcing him into a mistake with the puck is almost as difficult as properly pronouncing his last name.
And with a hockey sense that baffles the mind (in a good way), and a deep hunger to do whatever it takes to win, he is a coach’s dream.
So focused is he on team success over his own, in fact, that the only difficult part of dealing with him is getting him to talk about his own game.
“I don’t really think about points or awards or anything,” the Vaughan native said after a big win over Burlington on Dec. 12.
“I focus on making a good first pass and making smart decisions, but as long as the team is getting two points a nightly basis, that is all I care about really.”
After the league contracted in the off-season, teams such as the Vaughan Vipers (among others) made their players available to other eligible organizations.
Piacentini was one of the four highly talented players that subsequently made their way from the Vipers to the Rangers, and the defenceman has been everything that North York general manager Claude Desjardins hoped he would be when he was brought in to the fold.
For ‘Patty’, however, the chance to be a key leader on a competitor like the Rangers is something he cherished from the second he knew of his fate.
“I think this year I have been put in a lot more situations to perform,” he said.
“This summer I put a lot of emphasis on getting stronger and faster. A year under my belt has really helped my confidence and this summer I put in a lot of work to make sure I was ready for this year.”
At 5-foot-7 and 155 pounds, Piacentini relies on intelligence, positioning and an uncanny ability to use his stick to be effective on the defensive end of the ice.
Yet it is his composure and vision with the puck on his stick, regardless of the situation, that demonstrates a tremendous maturity in his game.
Take it from one man whose job is made much easier by his tremendous talents.
“What sets ‘Patty’ apart is his ability to stay calm and make the smart play,” said Rangers goaltender Jacob Keogh.
“And even if he does mess up, I know how hard he works to make up for it.”
An enhanced focus on strength and conditioning, and a clearly improved confidence level, has led to a highly productive season thus far. He eclipsed his previous career-high in points on Nov. 4 – only 20 games into the year (he played in 47 contests last year when he set the mark), and head coach John Dean trusts him in every situation.
Despite his size, Piacentini has also added a physical element to his game, one that was not always prevalent in years past.
“I think the confidence is a big thing,” he said.
“That physicality has always been within me, but now that I’ve put more work in I feel stronger, more confident and that has translated into my game.”
‘Patty’ has thrived in the role of assistant captain, breaking out of his understated demeanour to be an important on- and off-ice leader for this North York squad.
Yet as much as he emphasizes how much it means to him for the team to win, the measure that he means to the team is equally momentous.
“He’s certainly in the top-three best all-around defencemen I’ve played with,” said Rangers forward Ryan Kinsella, who has played with such defenders as Red Wings prospect James De Haas and USHL regular Luke Shiplo.
“Along with Shiplo, he is smartest guy I’ve played with.”
Piacentini dreams of playing Division I NCAA hockey and brings an academic acumen that is sure to attract interest from American Colleges.
Nothing is certain for his future, however in the new hockey world, where intelligence, composure and instincts can offset a lack of size, the young man wearing number two in blue certainly has a future worth watching.