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Brains and brawn

Is this prospect an enforcer or a sniper? Or both?

Wednesday, 31.03.2010 / 2:00 PM / Features
By Derek Jory
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Brains and brawn

When Aaron Volpatti took in the Canucks vs. Ducks game last week, it wasn’t the on-ice action that served as a reminder to how far he’s come in his hockey career.

It was the fan in the Milan Lucic Boston Bruins jersey below that brought things full circle.

Back when Volpatti, a Revelstoke, BC product signed by Vancouver March 22nd, was cutting his teeth with the Vernon Vipers in the BCHL, he was making a name for himself by bruising opponents. Volpatti traded punches 25 times over three seasons, which includes a brouhaha with Lucic.

”I think it was a pretty even fight, although I hate to say that because I was older than him at the time,” smiled the 24-year-old.

“I don’t remember too much of it, he wasn’t a big name guy then and I wasn’t a huge name guy, but it was good. Maybe we’ll have a rematch one day.”

That rematch is now closer than ever with Volpatti a part of an NHL franchise for the first time.

After Volpatti wrapped up his senior season at Brown University by scoring the game-winner in a 3-0 win over St. Lawrence in the ECAC Hockey Third-Place Game on the 20th, he weighed his options on the 21st before signing with the Canucks on the 22nd. Two days later he was eating dinner with Canucks GM Mike Gillis.

While Volpatti was relieved to be breaking bread with Gillis, he could have just as easily been in Boston, Nashville, New York or Edmonton chumming with others.

”It came down the wire, there were about six or seven teams and then a couple jumped in at the last minute on Sunday, but Vancouver was my number one choice to start with for a number of reasons,” explained Volpatti.

”I’m from British Columbia and I was a fan growing up, so they were obviously number one and I know it’s the best organization in the NHL. It would have been hard to say no.

”Vancouver approached me back in November, I met a couple of guys then like Stan Smyl. They just did a really great job getting to know me, they kept in touch with me every couple of weeks and they just genuinely showed an interest and really did a great job recruiting.”

Now that Volpatti is with the organization, it becomes a question of what he brings to the table.

Depending on which career stats you trust more, he’s either a character guy with grit and size, or a sharpshooter that knows how to bang bodies.

In the BCHL, the 6-foot-2, 215-pound forward had 279 penalty minutes in 137 games with 13 goals and 24 assists for 37 points.

Upon joining Brown of the NCAA in 2006-07, Volpatti cut down on his PIMs and focused on improving his overall game. He averaged 10 points and just over 40 penalty minutes a season in his first three years before taking a drastic leap in both categories as an elder statesmen.

This season Volpatti had 17 goals and 15 assists, his 32 point total was more than his first three years combined.

”They say goals come in bunches and that’s true,” said Volpatti, adding that they “weren’t all pretty goals.”

“I’ve never been much of a huge goal scorer, but I’ve definitely improved a lot. Part of that credit has to go to the coaching staff for the way they allowed us to play, we were a dangerous team in the offensive zone when we got pucks down low and that’s where I’m good personally.

”I protect the puck well down low and am good at getting things to the net. It was great to add that element to my game and I think that’s kind of what got me to the next step.”

Volpatti, not forgetting the swashbuckler roots of his game, also put up his highest penalty minute total in seven seasons. With 115 PIMs in 37 games, Volpatti set a new record for most penalty minutes in Brown history.

”It’s a major and a game for grabbing an opponent’s mask and I did that three times not remembering that you get kicked out,” laughed Volpatti.

”That makes my penalty minutes total a little bit deceiving, but at the same time I try to be a bit of a troublemaker.”

Signed to an amateur tryout contract by the Manitoba Moose late last week, Volpatti is now getting into a groove with his new team. So far so good, he scored on his first AHL shot in a 5-2 Manitoba win in Abbotsford Monday.

In true Volpatti style, he also dropped the gloves for the first time on the main stage.