Aaron Volpatti already has a significant stash of pro hockey moments tucked away in his memory bank, but few will stand out more than the one from Dec. 20, 2010.
It was the Revelstoke native’s first NHL goal with the Vancouver Canucks, in just his second game as a call-up from the AHL Manitoba Moose.
The goal, the first of the game, wasn’t anything fancy. No spin-o-rama top-shelf backhander. Just a smart hockey play that exemplified two of the cardinal rules of the game instilled in every kid to put on skates – go to the net and keep your stick on the ice.
Linemate Tanner Glass started the play with a thunderous hit in the corner on a forecheck, and fellow Moose call-up Alexandre Bolduc quickly retrieved the loose puck to set up Volpatti with a backdoor pass to beat St. Louis Blues’ netminder Jaroslav Halak.
The Canucks went on to stuff the Blues 3-1.
“It happened fast. It was a good play by my linemates and I just got it to the front of the net and get it off as quick as I could. We did well when we played together,” recalled Volpatti, a fan favourite because of his feisty style when he played with the Vernon Vipers (2003-06).
Said Sportsnet colour man John Garrett of the goal: “You want your fourth line to create some excitement, (but) you don’t necessarily think there’s going to be some goals, but boy oh boy, that fourth line made it happen.”
Volpatti’s rise up the ranks has been exponential. Signed as a free agent by the Canucks following his senior year with Brown University Bears in Providence, R.I., the hard-hitting winger finished the year with the Moose, racking up a goal and an assist and 17 penalty minutes in eight games.
He added another 13 points in 68 games last year (15 with Vancouver and 53 in Manitoba).
“It was obviously pretty surreal, growing up a Vancouver fan. Going from my senior year in college to actually signing with Vancouver in itself was pretty surreal,” said Volpatti, who trains with local pros Eric Godard and Stefan Schneider, along with a handful of up-and-comers, at Excel Fitness.
Volpatti, who graduated with a degree in human biology, as well as the single-season school record for penalty minutes (115), will have to get used to a new city this year as he will likely start the season with Vancouver’s new AHL affiliate, the Chicago Wolves.
“Chicago’s a fun city. Everyone kept telling me, there’s no way the franchise will go to Chicago because of the rivalry (with the Blackhawks), but it doesn’t matter,” said Volpatti.
“I had a really good time in Winnipeg. I really like the city. You go from a place like Vancouver to Winnipeg, it’s not as nice, I guess, but we had a good group of guys.”
Then again, with the departure of roughneck forwards Glass (Winnipeg Jets) and Raffi Torres (Phoenix Coyotes), there could be an opening for the 6-foot, 215-pounder’s physical skill set. Most of Vancouver’s offseason signings – namely Vernon’s Andrew Ebbett and Marco Sturm – don’t really fit that mold.
Regardless, Volpatti knows he will have to battle to secure a job with a team that just won the President’s Trophy.
“It’s tough to crack the lineup on that team. They signed a few new guys that can fill those bottom-six roles as well. There’s always competition, but it just makes everyone better. I’m just looking forward to getting to camp and getting it going.”
Volpatti disagrees with critics who declared the Canucks’ season a failure because they didn’t win a Stanley Cup after they cruised to the regular-season title.
“That’s a successful season in any team’s eye. It’s not the finish anyone wanted, but it’s still a good season,” he said.
“Sometimes they say that once you lose like that, then the next time you’re going to win. Hopefully that happens.”
Volpatti was stunned and saddened to learn of former Moose/Canuck teammate Rick Rypien’s recent death, as was the entire Vancouver organization.
“No one honestly expected anything like this,” he said.
“I got to know him pretty well and became good friends with him playing on his line for two months and into the playoffs. He was a great guy in the dressing room. He didn’t talk a lot about what was going on personally with him, but he seemed like his spirits were high and he always had a smile on his face.”
Volpatti was always amazed by Rypien’s ceaseless work ethic and tough-as-nails demeanor.
“He had a few injury problems he was battling through. He was coming to the rink on one leg and still playing. He was a tough kid.”