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Pinto to make NHL debut Saturday

by Matt Tidcombe @matttidcombe

For the second time this week, there's going to be an NHL debut on the Ottawa Senators.

The only difference is this one will be a little more planned.

Shane Pinto will make his NHL debut Saturday afternoon in Montreal, three days after his North Dakota teammate, Jacob Bernard-Docker, debuted Wednesday, finding out only shortly before puck drop he'd be playing.

"I had a feeling he was going to play for some reason," Pinto said of Bernard-Docker. "He got in and it was obviously a special moment just to see him out there.

"I'm trying to take in as much as I can each day and you only get to play in your first NHL game once so I'm going to step back and enjoy it but also try and play my best."

It's expected that Pinto will centre a line with Alex Formenton and Connor Brown tomorrow. Pinto was dominant in the faceoff dot this past season, winning 62 per cent of his faceoffs in the NCHC, one of the many statistical categories he led on his way to being named the conference's player of the year and being named a Hobey Baker finalist, among other accolades.

"It's a long way from college hockey to the NHL," Sens head coach D.J. Smith said when asked about what to expect from Pinto in the faceoff circle. "He's really good at it and he'll continue to get better at it. When you dominate a faceoff circle at your own age, usually it carries over at some point where you're going to be good at the next level.

"I think it's a lot to expect him to come in and win faceoffs at that rate at the NHL level as a rookie. He'll hold his own for sure to start and he'll be a dominant faceoff guy throughout his career."

It's been a manic few weeks for Pinto, and Bernard-Docker for that matter. After North Dakota lost in the NCAA tournament to eventual finalists Minnesota-Duluth on March 27, they signed with the Sens within hours of each other on April 1. After completing their mandatory quarantine, they only joined the Sens on the ice Monday and had to wait until the following day for a full team practice.

"It's been crazy, honestly," Pinto said. "It's been a bit of a whirlwind. I'm trying to take in as much as I can each day."

And now Pinto gets the chance to take in his first NHL game. He saw his teammate and close friend take his rookie lap a few days ago and now, the 22-year-old is ready to make the leap to the NHL himself.

There won't be any family or friends in attendance for Pinto, and while he admits it's disappointing they won't be there, he's going to cherish getting to make his first NHL appearance at the Bell Centre.

"They supported me growing up and I wouldn't be here without them and I would like to share that moment with them but, it's unfortunate," Pinto said of his parents, Frank and Catherine. "Either way, it's my first NHL game and everyone tells me to just enjoy it and I'm going to do my best.

"To play my first NHL game there is going to be pretty cool and I'm just going to soak up the moment."

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