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Stanley Cup Final

Pietrangelo's 'really high' hockey IQ boosts Blues in Stanley Cup Final

Defenseman's ability to read plays helps them to tie series against Bruins entering Game 5

by Mike Zeisberger @Zeisberger / NHL.com Staff Writer

BOSTON -- When longtime friends Joe Pietrangelo, Chris Stamkos and Steven Del Zotto congregate north of Toronto for their regular get-togethers, their discussions often revolve around their NHL sons.

"They're probably pumping their own tires, saying that's why we're here, because they coached us," Alex Pietrangelo said before laughing Wednesday.

Except these days, they are pumping Alex's tires, not their own, and with good reason.

 

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The defenseman is the captain of the St. Louis Blues, who are tied 2-2 with the Boston Bruins in the best-of-7 Stanley Cup Final. Game 5 is at Boston on Thursday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS).

Pietrangelo has come a long way from the days when Joe, Chris and Steven started a summer league team known as the Ontario Blues that included their 11-year-old boys 18 years ago. The team, which went 49-0-1, featured six future NHL players: their sons Pietrangelo, Steven Stamkos (Tampa Bay Lightning) and Michael Del Zotto (Blues); and John Tavares (Toronto Maple Leafs); Cody Hodgson (retired); and Michael Hutchinson (Maple Leafs).

Michael Del Zotto (top row, far left), Alex Pietrangelo (top row, second from left), Steven Stamkos (second row, far right) and John Tavares (front row, second from right) at 11 years old with the Ontario Blues

 

Almost 20 years have passed since then, but one thing hasn't changed: Alex Pietrangelo's outstanding vision and ability to read plays. They were qualities Chris Stamkos noticed right away in Alex.

"You could tell about that time that he was going to be a pretty good defenseman," Chris Stamkos said in a phone interview Wednesday. "I guess the new terminology is that he had a good IQ. He just had a really good understanding of the game, and he saw the ice really well.

"He wasn't the fastest skater out there, and even when we were putting the team together, he wasn't the fastest backwards-skating defenseman. But he always had an understanding of how to play the game, read the ice offensively, read the ice defensively. Overall, he was a really, really smart hockey player."

Chris Stamkos and Michael Del Zotto each pointed to the winning goal in the Blues' 4-2 victory against the Bruins in Game 4 on Monday as a prime example of Pietrangelo's hockey smarts.

The game was tied 2-2 when Pietrangelo noticed the Bruins were late on a line change and immediately started a rush up the right wing into the Boston zone. He paused briefly to give charging forward Ryan O'Reilly time to get to the net, then unleashed a high slap shot.

The plan worked to perfection. Tuukka Rask made the save but couldn't handle the rebound, and O'Reilly batted in the puck to give the Blues the lead at 10:38 of the third period.

Video: BOS@STL, Gm4: O'Reilly beats Rask for second tally

"I'm not going to score on that play," Pietrangelo said. "Tried to wait as long as I could so we could get the rebound. We had guys going hard to the net.

"I had one similar a couple of games ago, a wrist shot and [Rask] just kicked it out. So I figured I would try to go high and maybe he'd have trouble. Was a great play by [O'Reilly] to bat it in."

Del Zotto, a healthy scratch for the Blues throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs, has watched Pietrangelo make plays like that since the two were minor hockey opponents at 8 years old.

"His hockey IQ is really high," Del Zotto said. "He was a head above everyone else in terms of height back in those days, but he always saw the game very well. One of his biggest strengths is to see the game and think ahead. That's what makes him the special player that he is.

"He knew he wasn't going to score from out there the other night, but he knows if he shoots high, there'll be a rebound. Those are the plays not everyone will see, but they're subtle plays that can be the difference between winning and losing."

Alex Pietrangelo (right) with Michael Del Zotto as members of the Ontario Blues

 

Pietrangelo said he's always had a knack for the small details of the game.

"I guess hockey sense is one of the things I take pride in," he said. "I try to keep the game simple, try to read plays before they develop. It makes it easier to defend that.

"[Our fathers] probably could see it better back in the day than I did. But I definitely try to use that as one of my strengths."

Pietrangelo said he remains close friends with Stamkos and Del Zotto, just like their dads are. Tavares too.

Now he's in position to become the first of the group to hoist the Stanley Cup.

Back home, the fathers, like the rest of the hockey world, are noticing.

"He's been playing pretty steady -- you know, he's probably had a couple of stinkers, but that's usually more a team thing than an individual thing -- but most of the games I've seen, he's played really well, moved the puck well, seen the ice very well," Chris Stamkos said. "I think it's more old school than he's used to in terms of physicality, but I think it's a sign of his coach (Craig Berube).

"You could always see he was going to be a good player. And he's exactly that."

Maple Leafs forward John Tavares (then of the New York Islanders), Lightning forward Steven Stamkos and Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo together at the 2018 NHL All-Star Game in Tampa Bay

 

Pietrangelo has 15 points (two goals, 13 assists) in 23 games in the playoffs and suddenly finds himself in the spotlight of the Stanley Cup Final.

"Maybe not being in the biggest hockey market might hurt him, but I think he likes it," Del Zotto said. "He likes flying under the radar, he doesn't like the attention, he's a very humble guy.

"But he's getting a lot of the attention now, and it's well deserved. Great player, even a better person and a great captain."

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