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Notebook: DeFazio's Play Bright Spot in 5-1 Loss to Toronto

by Michelle Crechiolo / Pittsburgh Penguins
OSHAWA, ONT. -- After the Ottawa Senators prospects shut out the Penguins on Saturday, Brandon DeFazio decided enough was enough.

He started things off with a bang for Pittsburgh on Sunday against the Toronto Maple Leafs prospects at General Motors Centre, scoring off the opening faceoff to get Pittsburgh on the board just 12 seconds into the game.

His linemates Zach Sill and Dominik Uher earned the assists on the play.

“It all started with the little things,” DeFazio said. “’Siller’ made a great effort to be first on the puck there, exactly what we practiced today – going east-west behind the net. Lucky enough we put it in front and got the bounce back – it’s one of those goals you’ve got to love.”

The Penguins eventually fell to the Maple Leafs by a score of 5-1, with Toronto scoring twice in the first period, one in the second and twice in the third.

But DeFazio’s play throughout the entire 60 minutes – not just the first 12 seconds – was a bright spot for the Penguins on Sunday as they fell to 0-2 in the 2011 rookie tournament.

He’s been thoroughly impressive in each of Pittsburgh’s first two games, displaying exactly the kind of qualities that the Penguins primarily look for in prospects – compete level, hockey sense and versatility.

“He has played really well,” said Wilkes-Barre/Scranton head coach John Hynes, who is coaching the Penguins prospects this weekend. “He’s got relentless compete in him. He plays on both sides of the puck really well. He’s strong below the goal line. I think tonight, you even saw he had a couple great scoring chances. He’s starting to show that he can play multiple positions and multiple situations.”

DeFazio has displayed a tireless work ethic these past two games, using his size (6-foot-1, 200 pounds) and his speed to keep play rimmed in the opposing teams’ ends. It’s that commitment to working hard that the 22-year-old winger prides himself on.

“For me, it’s always been about work ethic,” he said. “I’m just going to work hard. I’m not going to outskill you, but I might beat you there just on work ethic. That’s about it for me.”

The undrafted DeFazio just finished a four-year career at Clarkson, serving as an alternate captain and leading the team in goals (14) and points (26) as a senior in 2010-11.

He joined the Penguins organization after graduating last May, playing two games for WBS and scoring nine points (4G-5A) in 10 games with Wheeling of the ECHL.

He impressed the Penguins staff enough to earn himself a one-year AHL contract with WBS on July 27, and he’s still got room to grow in terms of earning an NHL deal. But that’s not DeFazio’s focus over the rest of this tournament.

“I’m just trying to do the little things and trying to make an impression,” he said. “Show that you can compete at this level and that you belong. That’s what you try and do.”

He’s certainly doing just fine so far.

Penguins defenseman Robert Bortuzzo left the ice midway through the first period with an undisclosed injury and did not return to the game. He will be re-evaluated Monday.

This was Bortuzzo’s first game of the tournament, as he and fellow blueliner Simon Despres had sat out Saturday’s game vs. the Ottawa prospects.

Carl Sneep and Brian Strait were tonight’s scratches, as the Penguins are giving their more experienced blueliners nights off to give the younger prospects a chance to make an impression.

That meant with Bortuzzo out, the Penguins had to alternate five defenseman – Despres, Joseph Morrow, Scott Harrington, Philip Samuelsson and Alex Grant – for most of the game.

WBS assistant coach Alain Nasreddine was thoroughly pleased with how the youthful group – with Morrow, Harrington and Samuelsson all playing in their first rookie tournament – responded to an adverse situation.

“I just actually talked to all of the D about how I’m really proud of what they did,” he said. “It’s not an easy task. You want to make an impression in camp and you want to work hard and compete, and that’s what they did with five D.

“They battled all the way through. They were tired, but you couldn't tell because they battled and they competed and that’s all we ask.”

The Penguins received a number of power-play opportunities in their tilt with the Maple Leafs, which got chippy at tmes. And to start every one, the coaching staff arranged for forward Tom Kuhnhackl to man the left point alongside defenseman Simon Despres.

“(Hynes) asked me if I wanted to try it, and I said sure, why not,” Kuhnhackl said.

He and Despres met with the coaches before the game to discuss what plays they should try and what scenarios they might run into, which Kuhnhackl said helped a lot.

But manning the point on the power play is something that Kuhnhackl has experience with, as he did just that last season for Windsor of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL).

“When I played in Windsor, I was playing on the point with Ryan Ellis for half of the season,” Kuhnhackl said. “So I’m used to it.”

Ellis, whose impressive resume includes being the 11th-overall pick in the 2009 NHL Draft and back-to-back Memorial Cups in 2008 and 2009, helped Kuhnhackl feel comfortable in an unfamiliar position.

“He’s just the best,” Kuhnhackl said, who led the Spitfires with 39 goals in 2010-11. “If you play with him on the point, you have way more confidence. He always helps you. He’s a leader. He was for me last year, so he helped me a lot. Especially on the point.”

The Penguins had a scare in the third period when forward Jessey Astles, at camp on an amateur tryout offer, went down after taking a puck to the face.

But Astles, who's spent the last two seasons with Kelowna of the Western Hockey League (WHL), toughed it out for the remainder of the game, waiting to get looked at by the team medical staff once the game was over.

He ended up with a grossly swollen lip, but since the cut was on the inside of his mouth, Astles decided not to get stitches.

"One of the defensemen came up and was going to chip it out of the corner," Astles said. "Unfortunately I was in front of him and the shot went right in my face. It feels bad, but I’m alright."

Astles earned an invite to this tournament after impressing the Penguins staff at development camp in July.

He plays a gritty, agitating style and is the first one to step up and drop the gloves if needed, which he's done three times in the past two games here in Oshawa.

"It’s who I am," he said. "I’ve always been physical since I was a kid, and I love the rough stuff. It’s my role. I’ve always been the guy who has to step up and I like it. I’ll do whatever the coaches say. I’ll step up any time."
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