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A day with Pinizzotto

by Derek Jory / Vancouver Canucks

Joey, Jory & Rory’s Excellent Adventure continued Friday with a trip to Mississauga, Ontario, for the final hometown player visit.

On Saturday Vancouver forward Steve Pinizzotto gave and CanucksTV an all-access pass to his life, both past and present, and we made the most of it. A Chihuahua, nine-month-old twins, foosball, Greek food, frosted tips, Rick Nash and the vent covering the hole in the door. Get ready for Pinizzotto like never before.

Here’s a timeline of our visit, once juicy detail at a time.

9:15 a.m. EST – We, the Excellent Adventure amigos, meet in the hotel lobby, each looking more tired than the next.

9:16 – What day is it? Anyone know the date? What city are we in? All common questions this deep into our adventure. One last stop. Here we go.

9:42 – I don’t think we’re truly in Mississauga yet, but wherever we are, I love it. We pass a drive-in. No, not a lazy way to get coffee in the morning, a drive-in, the coolest way to watch a movie ever. The Dark Knight Rises is paired with Magic Mike on the Starlight Screen #1; I've heard Magic Mike is good, my wife was so happy she got a night out with the girls to watch it that she bought me a gym membership the next day!

9:53 – Arrival. Pinizzotto is quick out of his home to greet us with bone crushing handshakes. My writing, poor as it already was, is that of a one-year-old holding a pen in the wrong hand, for the rest of the day.

9:55 – Pinizzotto invites us in. He’s extremely accommodating in a teal v-neck t-shirt, plaid shorts and white socks. The gold chain he’s wearing peeks out now and again, as do the slim tattoo on his left arm and imaginatively aggressive near-sleeve on his right arm.

9:56Yap, yap, yap. Pinizzotto’s Chihuahua Chino is barking up a storm. I would write bark, bark, bark, but he’s a tiny dog, a yapper. “He’s my guard dog,” says Pinizzotto. Chino, named after cappuccino, is five-years-old and has been ruling the household since he was roughly eight-weeks-old. “He’s a really good dog, if he knows ya, he’ll love ya.”

10:03 – Rory takes a seat on the couch to prep his camera for an interview. This catches the attention of Chino, who is now growling a cute little growl, instead of yapping its cute little yap. Next thing you know, Chino is on Rory’s lap. Best friends forever.

10:04 – Rory stands up to begin filming an interview. This does not please Chino, who follows him off the couch and takes a chomp at his leg; the hairs on Rory’s left calf have no idea how close they came to being Chino’s breakfast.

10:05 – We are still laughing at the near death blow to Rory. The day, as you’ll read, proceeds as planned, BUT what if Chino had bitten Rory? Chino bites Rory. Rory hits Chino. Pinizzotto hits Rory. Derek and Joey run. It’s all in a day’s work.

10:10 – Pinizzotto has a man’s basement. Big, bountiful couch, projector screen on the wall and hockey memorabilia everywhere. Jerseys, sticks, photos, some with more meaning than others. He pulls us over to a photo of him, wearing #90, skating beside Alexander Ovechkin during warmup with the Washington Capitals, when he was called up and was fully expecting to make his NHL debut. He didn’t. “It just wasn’t mean to be. The game was in Toronto, I had a bunch of family there, everything was going well and then Matt Bradley ended up being healthy and there was no room for me.”

10:13 – “This table is tilted,” Joey exclaims halfway through an 8-0 foosball shellacking from Pinizzotto. This was a one-sided matchup to say the least. I know foosball players don’t have arms, but Joey was playing like his didn’t have legs. Like a surgeon, Pinizzotto is meticulous and precise in the win; he even checked the back of the net Joey had been defending (and I use that word lightly) to make sure he didn’t blow a hole through it. Burn.

10:21 – We take an extremely tortuous 17 step walk to the house two-doors down from Steve’s home. His brother Marc lives here, his other brother Jason lives in between them. Jason, 32, is the oldest, then Marc is 30, then baby Steve at 28-years-old.

10:22 – Jason isn’t home, but his wife Andrea is, as are the couple’s adorable (and that doesn’t truly do them justice) nine-month-old twins. The boy, Domenic, has his hair spiked in the front and is in a collared plaid shirt. The girl, Daniella, is pretty in pink with a ruffled shirt and headband with a flower on top. She’s a minute older than her brother. Pinizzotto shifts into uncle mode and is tickling and blowing on them as soon as he gets his hands on them. The twins were born three months premature and they were so small that Domenic’s onesie fit Chino like a glove. They have been thriving ever since and are happy, healthy and wonderful to play with.

10:29 – A Chihuahua and twin babies all in the first 30 minutes of our time with Pinizzotto? All he needs to do is help an elderly lady across the street to become the official heartthrob of the Vancouver Canucks.

10:30 – Pinizzotto’s black Audi S4, which he bought off Washington Capitals goalie Michal Neuvirth, wants to be opened up as we sail down the street on our way to his childhood home – and Pinizzotto, busy putting it into fourth from third, is looking a little like Ricky Bobby.

10:37 – A hostile jerk of the car has us back headed towards his current home, instead of his childhood home. “I forgot the keys,” he laughs.

10:44The one about…his last name

10:50The one about…his injury

10:57The one about…his love of golf

11:08 – Better late than never. Pinizzotto’s mom is at the family cottage on this day, so the fantastically large home is empty. It has changed a lot since Pinizzotto was a rabble-rouser, “I think it may have even changed since I was here last,” he quips.

11:13 – A flowery couch and a bookshelf with non-28-year-old books sit in his childhood room where his bed and cool gadgets used to be. “I had some sick posters on the wall too. I had Pavel Bure and Doug Gilmour.” He opens the closet and pulls out a Paddington looking bear wearing a red and white hat, a Red Wings jersey, matching socks and skates. “This was our team mascot when I played on the junior Red Wings. I have no idea how I ended up with it.” Back in the closet it goes.

11:16 – The basement looks nothing like it used to, but Pinizzotto can still imagine where the faceoff dots and red and blue lines were painted on the makeshift rink he and his brothers put together. We wind down a hallway headed back upstairs when I notice a door with a vent in the middle of it. Odd, no? “That’s hilarious, I totally forgot about that,” he laughs. “This was the old door to my room upstairs and I remember one time I was so mad, I don’t know about what, but I punched my fist right through it. Now it’s down here as the door to the shop.”

11:20 – Pinizzotto walks down the large spiral staircase in the middle of the home carrying three photo albums – you know the ones. One is a tan colour with a sunset on the cover, another has palm trees and the two swans swim happily on the third. There must have been a special on these exact albums in the ‘80s.

11:23 – Pinizzotto’s hair is different in almost every photo. Black with a mullet, black with a bowl cut, black with a front part, blonde and messy, black and spiked with frosted tips. “I liked to change it up and keep it fresh,” he laughs.

11:24The one about…the hockey commercial

12:00 p.m. – Pinizzotto, likely sensing my hunger, takes us to his friend Andrew’s restaurant, Souvlaki Port Credit, for lunch. He goes with the large chicken souvlaki on a pita, with a side salad. I go with the vegetarian dinner. We both get the most astounding Greek food we might ever have. I kiss my fingers like a chef.

12:08 – Before the food arrives, Joey inquires about Pinizzotto’s time with the Hershey Bears, a team he won back-to-back Calder Cup championships with in 2008-09 and 2009-10. I, being a seriously hardcore investigative journalist, ask him if there are actually any bears in Hershey. “There are no bears in Hershey, none, I didn’t see any,” he says. You’re welcome.

12:12The one about…the tattoos

12:38 – Andrew joins us to share some insight into all things Steve Pinizzotto. “We go right back to high school, maybe even Grade 5 or Grade 6,” Andrew says. “In high school this guy had a five-litre mustang with his brothers and he’d be busting donuts on the streets. Always a handy guy with cars; one day he decided he wanted to put fenders on his car so he cut holes in his new car in his drive way and got it done. He’s also a straight shooter; he is what he is. Everyone liked him, everyone got along with him.”

12:49 – The food was spectacular, but it left us all with raunchy Tzatziki breathe. It’s a fight for the package of mint gum in his cup holder when we pile back into the car. Pinizzotto wins, but we all win because there are three pieces of gum left. Winning.

12:51 – “Just wait until the Tzatziki burps start,” Pinizzotto laughs as we arrive at Canlan Ice Sports, one of his junior rinks that he also trains out of four days a week now. I laugh, politely, secretly swearing off Tzatziki sauce forever, or at least until the end of the day.

1:16 – “This is where I played when I was 16, 17, 18 and 19-years-old,” he says pointing to a sheet of ice currently occupied by men in camouflage jerseys. We agree that we have no idea who or what they are hiding from. “The only bad part about this was that we had to get changed over in Rink 4, which is a little ways over there, so if you lost here, it was a long walk back to the room.”

1:30 – Our final stop of the day is BTNL, Beyond The Next Level, a sports performance and therapy centre, which is bumping at the moment. Future NHLers are everywhere, some lifting, others jumping, a handful shooting. Pinizzotto smiles and points to the wall of fame where a picture of him hoisting the Calder Cup is front and centre, he then leads us to a large grey wall where almost every brick is signed by someone who has trained in the facility who went on to play hockey professionally. He’s the third brick from the right, second row from the top.

1:33PRO’S ONLY, with an arrow pointing ahead, is written in smelly black marker on a ghostly white piece of paper. This is to let newbies know the nice dressing room in the back is, clearly, for those in the pro ranks. There are stalls with hockey gear set up for maybe 15 guys, including Tommy Wingels, Simon Despres, Same Gagner, Victor Oreskovich and Pinizzotto. "I can’t wait until I have a stall back in the Canucks locker room, for real,” he smiles. Neither can we.

1:44 – One final bone crushing handshake and we part. As we make our way back to downtown Toronto, an elderly lady in a bright yellow dress makes her way slowly across an intersection. Pinizzotto can’t be two places at once, but if he could, he’d be arm-in-arm with this damsel in distress leading her to safety.

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