Thanks to a quick start to his season at the University of North Dakota, Ottawa prospect Shane Pinto took his talents to the international stage as a member of Team USA at the 2020 World Junior Championship last month and many Sens fans finally got their first on-ice look at the player taken with the first selection on Day 2 of the NHL Draft this past June in Vancouver.
And it turns out the 19-year-old American forward is pretty good at making first impressions.
Pinto has excelled during the first half of his freshman season and has recorded 18 points (11G, 7A) through his first 21 games in the NCAA. Like several other Senators' prospects before him, he praised the environment created by the program as the main reason for his initial success.
"I think the biggest thing for me is being comfortable at school," said Pinto. "The coaching staff and the older players have really helped me out a lot while I was adjusting to the college game. Everyone here made the transition so easy for me and as a team we're doing well which definitely helps the individual success."
His strong start at UND carried over into Team USA's selection camp in December and Pinto not only worked his way onto the team but was able to carve out a nice offensive role for himself as well as becoming a key part of the American power play.
Team USA would open the World Juniors matched up against the eventual Gold Medal-winning squad from Canada and, in addition to the age-old North American rivalry, Pinto would square against his college teammate and fellow Senators' prospect Jacob Bernard-Docker.
"You always hear about those USA vs. Canada games and how big the rivalry is and from the drop of the puck you could feel how serious it was," he said. "It was definitely a little weird to play against Jacob since we've been battling together the past few months. We chirped at each other a little bit about it but he got the last laugh obviously."
Team Canada would ultimately earn a 6-4 decision over Team USA in their opening day match-up but Pinto's strong offensive play (2G, 1A) resulted in him being selected as the American's player of the game.
Pinto would run into another Sens' prospect to close out his World Juniors as well when Team USA lost 1-0 in their quarterfinal contest against Lassi Thomson and Finland. Pinto and Thomson got into a bit of a shoving exchange in the game's final moments but Pinto shared that it's just something that can happen during in big moments and was impressed that his fellow 2019 draft pick had some sandpaper to his game.
"It definitely wasn't anything personal and was just in the heat of the moment," Pinto joked. "We were losing that game so it was pretty emotional but he's a great guy. We got along really well at Development Camp and he was actually my roommate all week so I'm sure we'll have a laugh about that when I see him next."
Despite not medaling at the tournament, Pinto thoroughly enjoyed his World Junior experience and looks back fondly on his time with Team USA.
"It was an incredible experience," he said. "I was privileged and grateful to get the opportunity to play for my country and even though we didn't get the result we were all hoping for, it was cool to head overseas and to have my family there watching me play for Team USA."
With his tournament cut short, Pinto kept an eye on the remaining games with a vested interest and was excited to see his friend and Sens prospect Bernard-Docker take home gold with Team Canada in a thrilling final.
"I was definitely cheering him on after we were eliminated," said Pinto of his UND teammate. "Especially in the finals, there was no way I wanted to see Russia win so I was glad to see him win gold if I couldn't."
He has since been reunited with Bernard-Docker at North Dakota as the pair, along with 2018 Senators' second round pick Jonny Tychonick, look to continue their strong play this season on the nation's top ranked team.
For Pinto, he's hoping his experience with Team USA will help fuel him for an equally impressive second half of his freshman campaign.
"Even just making the team was a big confidence boost for me so I'm excited to build off that in the second half at North Dakota," said Pinto. "We just want to stay at that #1 spot as a team and make it to the tournament. All of my goals for the rest of the season are just team goals and we're focused on doing whatever we need to do to win a national title."