PENTICTON, B.C. -- Aaron Volpatti's always played some of his best hockey here. Now, he is making a case for a full-time roster spot with the Vancouver Canucks after a strong showing at the Canucks Top Prospects Tournament.
Volpatti, from Revelstoke, B.C., played his junior hockey two hours north of Penticton with the Vernon Vipers – the six-time Canadian Junior A National champions. To put it mildly, the Vees -- Penticton's Junior A team -- and the Vipers don't get along, have never gotten along, and never will get along.
Accustomed to playing big games every time he visited Penticton as a player, it seemed quite fitting to Volpatti that his quest to be a professional began here Sunday.
"I dreamed of it one day, but I didn't know it would be here, that's for sure," Volpatti said. "It's good to be back here. This is a nice facility, a little different than Memorial Arena; although I love that building. It was fun to play in."
Volpatti was more of a plumber than a sniper during his tenure with the Vipers, amassing just 13 goals during three seasons, but the gritty forward showed enough to earn a scholarship to Brown University.
Four years with the Brown Bears and a human biology degree later, Volpatti is suddenly a scoring threat. He scored 17 goals and 15 assists in 37 games this past season -- totals greater than his first three years seasons of college hockey combined. It is the most goals and points he's put up since playing midget hockey, a timely outburst of offense in his final year of college.
"I think it was just our style of play," Volpatti said. "We had a coaching change, and they worked with us quite a bit in offensive zone, and being strong around the net. It was a credit to them as well as the other players. We had a couple players who had breakout seasons like myself."
Volpatti's big season didn't fly under the radar of NHL teams, which lined up to offer the Bears' captain a chance to play pro at the conclusion of Brown's season.
Vancouver, thankfully, was one of those teams.
"Aaron Volpatti was seen by our staff, as headed by Stan Smyl, who particularly oversees our college free-agent market," Canucks Vice President of Hockey Operations and Assistant GM Laurence Gilman said. "We followed him all year, we watched him play multiple times. He embodied the skills and the skill set that we are looking for in a player, and matches what we need."
For Volpatti, who grew up watching the Canucks on TV, the chance to play in his home province of British Columbia won out against the other opportunities presented.
Now, he has a two-year, two-way deal. But the 23-year-old knows that the transition from NCAA to pro hockey is a major adjustment.
"College you only play 30, 40-plus games a season; it's pretty run-and-gun, you practice all week for the games on the weekend," he said. "So you're really raring to go, everyone's just flying. It's a pretty grueling season - pro hockey. It's long, and it's a little bit more controlled, but there are less mistakes. Everybody's just that much better."
Still, Volpatti has high expectations for the upcoming season.
"I want to start here," he said. "I think that's everyone's goal. I think it's a realistic goal if I just play my game and improve in a couple areas. If I start in Manitoba, then my goal is to get a couple games here for sure."
Similarly, Gilman sees big things for the 6-foot, 215-pound forward.
"He got his feet wet last year in Manitoba and acquitted himself very well," Gillman said. "We think he's going to have an impact on our team this year."