Steelheads spoil IceDogs opener
The Niagara IceDogs appear to have a legitimate power forward in Pasquale Zito.
The 19-year-old Ottawa native, picked up in an off-season deal with the Windsor Spitfires, made an impressive debut for the IceDogs Thursday night.
Zito had a goal and an assist as the IceDogs dropped a 4-3 overtime decision before 4,026 fans in their 2022/23 Ontario Hockey League regular season opener in St. Catharines.
“It was incredible, great atmosphere,” Zito said. “You couldn’t ask for better fans. I love the barn and the energy we have here.”
The IceDogs acquired Zito for a package of six draft picks, including a pair of second-round selections.
“There was a little bit of communication there, obviously,” Zito said when asked about the deal. “I knew Windsor would probably be in a rebuild and I felt this would probably be a better move for me to continue on with my hockey career.
“I like this team and the coaches and I think it was the right move.”
Zito collected 22 goals last season and figures to be one of the IceDogs go-to players on offence.
“I see myself as a top-six guy on this team. I like to bring a lot of offence to this organization and team. I just want to play my heart out for this team.”
Zito was a sixth-round selection in 2021 by the Detroit Red Wings and just spent a couple of weeks at camp with the team.
“An incredible experience,” he said. “I took it all in being there seeing all the older guys and the NHL guys practise, work hard and play games.”
IceDogs coach Daniel Fitzgerald has high expectations for Zito this season.
“He’s a very skilled player, a very hard-working player,” Fitzgerald said. “He’s somebody we need to rely on. Pasquale is someone we need to show up every night for 60 minutes. He has the skill and ability to take over games.”
The IceDogs fell behind 2-0 early in the second period before tying the game at 2-2 with a pair of quick goals early in the third. Mississauga regained the lead at 3-2 before Zito evened things up at 3-3 with 12 minutes to play.
The Steelheads won it when Zakary Lavoie completed the hat-trick at 1:48 of overtime.
“We didn’t get off to a great start by any means going into the third period down a couple,” Fitzgerald said. “What I loved was our resiliency, the way we fought back in that game. We could have easily laid down and died, but we showed a lot of moxie in that game.
“A few things we need to clean up — we handed a couple to them — but if we clean that up and show that resiliency time and time again when things don’t go our way, we’re going to be poised to be a pretty hard team to play against.”
Before the game, the IceDogs acquired Andrew and Jacob LeBlanc from Kitchener in exchange for London’s second-round pick in 2024, London’s third-round pick in 2025, Mississauga’s third-round pick in 2026 and London’s fifth-round pick in 2023.
The 2004-born LeBlanc twins hail from Port Colborne. Andrew LeBlanc, a centre, was drafted by Kitchener in the first round, 17th overall, of the 2020 draft. He scored six goals and picked up 19 assists for 25 points in his rookie season last year. Jacob LeBlanc, who plays defence, was also drafted by Kitchener in 2020 in the third round, 42nd overall. Last season in his rookie campaign, he played a full 68 games, putting up four goals and 16 assists for a total of 20 points for the Rangers.
“We’ll see where they fit in,” Fitzgerald said. “They’re experienced players who both had pretty good years last year. We love the added bonus that they are local. They’re two guys with great pedigrees. It’s nice to be able to bolster both the forward group and the blueline at the same time.”
Ice cubes: Brice Cooke, Cole Bishop and Andrew Wycisk did not dress for the IceDogs . . . Luca DelBelBelluz (Columbus), Ethan Del Mastro (Chicago) and Owen Beck (Montreal) are still at NHL camps for the Steelheads . . . Former IceDogs Issac Enright, Ryan Struthers and Jake Uberti suited up for the Steelheads.
Steelheads 4 IceDogs 3
Niagara’s Pasquale Zito and Mississauga’s Zakary Lavoie.
Niagara IceDogs: Zito (1); Aiden Castle (1); Brenden Sirizzotti (1).
Mississauga Steelheads: Lavoie 3 (1, 2, 3); James Hardie (1).
Game stats: Shots on goal: By Niagara on Alessio Beglieri (27), by Mississauga on Owen Flores (37); Power plays: Niagara 1/2, Mississauga 0/4; Penalty minutes: Niagara 13, Mississauga 8.
Next up: The IceDogs are in Flint Saturday and Saginaw Sunday.
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