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Pirri engineers a plan

by John McGourty
Consider Brandon Pirri a man with a plan, as well as a strong survival instinct.

Pirri's plan, several years now in its execution, has kept the 5-foot-11.5, 160-pound center away from heavy competition with the bigger Ontario Hockey League players his own age while allowing him to develop as a dominating player at lower levels. 

Pirri plans to follow the strategy for a few more years by attending Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., in September.

Pirri was the third-leading scorer this past season in the Ontario Junior Hockey League, a Tier II league a step below the OHL, where most Ontario teens with professional aspirations try to play. The OHL has a 68-game season, while the OJHL plays a 49-game schedule.

In 2007, Pirri was drafted by the OHL's Sudbury Wolves after an outstanding season with the Toronto Nationals AAA team, attended their camp and returned to Toronto to play for the OJHL's Streetsville Derbys, leading the last-place team in scoring. He had 49 points in 18 games this past season with Streetsville, and then was traded to the Georgetown Raiders, whom he helped to the MacKinnon Division finals. He finished the season with 46 goals and 94 points.

Pirri said the seven-game loss taught him an important lesson -- "The importance of not wasting any opportunity," he said. "With every game being important, if you waste opportunities you won't be playing the next week. I learned more about seizing the moment and not wasting it. It's tough and you don't ever want to forget that feeling so it doesn't happen again. After a week or so, you have to forget and start working out and preparing yourself for next season."

Pirri was voted the OJHL's B.J. Monro Memorial Award as the player with the best professional prospects.

Pirri also starred at the World Junior 'A' Challenge in Camrose, Alta., last November, leading Canada East to the bronze medal as the team's leading scorer and fifth-leading scorer at the tournament, with 7 points in four games.

"It was phenomenal going there with all the guys and playing for your country," Pirri said. "It was a really good experience. Everything seemed to be going in for me. We were doing well until we ran into a little trouble in the semifinal against the United States, but everybody really came together as a group in a short period of time and had a lot of fun."

Pirri also was one of the stars in the Canadian Junior Hockey League Prospects Game in Summerside, PEI in December, getting a goal and two assists for the victorious Team East. The game features the top NHL draft-eligible junior 'A' players in Canada, as chosen by the CJHL and NHL Central Scouting.

At every turn, Pirri turned his 18-year-old season into proof that he's at the very top of players below the major junior level. The scouts agreed, as Central Scouting moved him from No. 80 in the midseason rankings to No. 75 in the final ranking of North American skaters for the 2009 Entry Draft.

NHL teams know Pirri won't be joining them too soon, however, as his commitment to RPI comes first.

"In college hockey, with the shorter schedule, it will work to my strengths," Pirri said. "I'll have more time to work out, get bigger and stronger. When I go to play pro hockey, I'll be physically ready to play against men.

"In college hockey, with the shorter schedule, it will work to my strengths. I'll have more time to work out, get bigger and stronger. When I go to play pro hockey, I'll be physically ready to play against men."
-- Brandon Pirri

"I'm a good student but I chose RPI more because I really believe in the coaching staff, that they're going to get me to the level I need to be to be a dominant hockey player. I'd like to play pro hockey as soon as possible. When I go play pro hockey, I want to be ready when that time comes."

The plan is working. Pirri was 5-foot-8 and 155 pounds when he went to Sudbury's camp as a 15-year-old. He was 160 the next season, 170 pounds at the start of the 2008-09 season and is heavier now.

"I'm 6-feet, 180 pounds," said Pirri. "I'm taking working out very seriously this summer, and nutrition has also been an important part of that, too. I have a personal trainer that works with (Edmonton's) Andrew Cogliano and we work out five times a week.

"Coming into the league as a smaller player, I really grew a lot last season and in the offseason, and I think it helped me a lot as a player. I was just hoping to have a good season and get noticed by a few scouts. It seemed like everything went in for me. Going to Camrose and PEI was a great experience. The playoff run was great, too. Everything went well.

"I've been a smaller player since I was young. My dream has always been to play in the NHL. When I get to the NHL, I want to stay there and not be bouncing around the minors. I feel that by going to college, it will give me the time that I need to develop as a hockey player and as a person."

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