Zach Pochiro wasn’t very bashful as a 10-year-old.
When he saw Blues defenseman Al MacInnis at a youth hockey tournament in Canada, he approached him without hesitation and politely asked for an autograph. MacInnis obliged and Zach still proudly displays the signed jersey at his home in Las Vegas.
Nearly a decade later, Zach is a St. Louis Blues prospect and was working out several feet from where MacInnis was standing at the team’s annual Development Camp at St. Louis Outlet Mall. But did Zach approach the Hockey Hall of Famer?
“Not yet,” he said. “I haven’t found the courage to talk to him yet.”
Maybe Zach is still too dizzy to find his courage. After all, it’s been a whirlwind few weeks for the 19-year-old. A month ago, his hockey adviser recommended he avoid watching the draft. “He said get lost for the day,” Zach recalled. “Go play golf, go swimming, do something to get your mind off this.”
So Zach went swimming.
Imagine his surprise when the Blues selected him with a fourth round pick, No. 112 overall, at the 2013 NHL Draft on June 30.
“I was sitting at home with my family and we were in the pool hanging out. All of a sudden I got a call saying ‘congratulations,’” Zach said. “I broke down and started crying to be honest with you. I couldn’t handle it anymore. When I turned the TV on and it had the Blue Note and my name right next to it, I lost it. I couldn’t handle it.”
You see, being drafted by the Blues is extra special for the Pochiro family.
Zach was born in Creve Couer. His dad, Steve, worked for a company in Las Vegas and was on a two-year assignment to St. Louis, where he worked at the Casino Queen. The family lived on The Hill and when Steve wasn’t working, he often went to Blues games at the Arena. “The first game I went to…the Blues played Chicago that night,” Steve recalled. “I think there might have been a hockey game. There were so many fights…I thought, where have I been? This is probably the coolest sport ever. I became a huge Blues fan. I saw 27-35 games that year. I even bought a (Wayne) Gretzky (Blues) jersey.”
With his work at the Casino Queen wrapped up and Zach just one-year-old, Steve packed up the family and headed back to Las Vegas, but St. Louis certainly left an indelible mark on their lives. “I get back as much as possible,” Steve said. “I still have dear friends there, I even get my taxes done in St. Louis because I like the tax guy.”
Without an NHL franchise to root for in the town he grew up in, Zach became a die-hard Blues fan.
“I know anything you want to hit me with,” he said. “MacInnis was one of my favorite defensemen. I was devastated when we traded Chris Pronger because I knew we had to rebuild. I love T.J. Oshie, I love (David) Backes…I could go on for days. The Blues are my team.”
Notice how Zach says “we” when referring to the Blues organization? He’s been property of the Blues for less than three weeks, yet it’s almost as if he was born to be a Blue.
“Our whole house bleeds blue,” Steve said. “We have the hockey package (on TV), we’ve got pennants (and) Brett Hull and Brendan Shanahan autographs. With the Blues, there is absolutely no competition in our house. Everybody is 100 percent a Blues fan.”
Zach got his start in hockey while learning to skate during public sessions in Vegas. When he was four, he met NHLer Marty McSorely at a public skating session. McSorely convinced Steve to buy Zach a hockey stick. Ever since that moment, Zach hasn't been able to get hockey off his mind.
He worked his way up, eventually lacing up the skates in 2011-12 with the Wichita Falls Wildcats of the North American Hockey League. Despite being draft-eligible in 2012, Zach went undrafted but kept chasing his dream, landing with the Prince George Cougars of the Western Hockey League. Last season, he posted 15 goals, 24 assists and 105 penalty minutes in 65 games. It was enough to get noticed.
After the draft, Blues Director of Amateur Scouting Bill Armstrong mentioned determination, ruggedness and grit when describing Pochiro’s play.
“I think I’m a two-way player,” Zach said. “You want me to go out and fight and piss one of their best players off, (I will). You want me to go make a hit, block a shot, if you want me to play power play…whatever you need me to do, I can do. I’m the kind of guy you’d want on your side.”
Obviously, the Blues agree. On draft day, GM Doug Armstrong traded a seventh round pick and a fourth round pick in 2014 to Nashville to get him.
But Zach was only born in St. Louis. He knows he will have to work his tail off to get back.
“If I ever see him out on the ice in a Blues jersey, there’s no doubt it will bring tears to my eyes,” Steve said. “To see somebody complete their dream…it’s phenomenal.”
Getting drafted was a good start.
Now, if only he could find the courage to approach MacInnis.