The Ottawa Senators love NCAA hockey players and sign them with regularity. The University of North Dakota’s Shane Pinto is no exception. Having ended his freshman season with UND, he’s up for Newcomer of the Year after leading the NCHC. As it stands right now, Pinto’s biggest competition for the award is the University of Nebraska-Omaha’s Nolan Sullivan. Pinto led all NCHC rookies with 28 points. Of those points, he scored 16 goals.
What also stands out with Pinto is his faceoff statistics. In a game in early March against Omaha, Pinto won 35 faceoffs and lost only six. Such faceoff dominance helped move Pinto into the second spot on the UND record book’s faceoff percentage: Rhett Gardner set the record a year ago when he won 62.3 percent of his draws. Pinto, who’s improved all season, ended his season with over 61 percent. His ability in the faceoff circle has helped the Fighting Hawks become one of the country’s best possession teams.
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Pinto’s Play During the 2020 IIHF World Juniors
Pinto also gained experience this season playing Team USA’s 6-4 loss to Canada at the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship and scored a goal and an assist. Pinto centered Team USA’s No. 1 line between Nick Robertson (TOR) and Oliver Wahlstrom (NYI). He wasn’t the only UND player there, either. Jacob Bernard-Docker made Canada’s final roster. Bernard-Docker was the only college player to play for Team Canada. (from Shane Pinto makes U.S. World Junior final roster and signs point toward a big role, Brad Elliott Schlossman, Grand Forks Herald, 12/23/19)
As well, Pinto isn’t the only Senators’ prospects playing for the University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks. Since the beginning of the 2019-20 season, Ottawa Senators prospects Bernard-Docker and Pinto have played vital roles in leading them to the top spot in the NCAA rankings. The Senators chose Pinto 32nd overall in the 2019 draft. (from Senators hopefuls Jacob Bernard-Docker and Shane Pinto on opposite sides in world junior event, Ken Warren, The Ottawa Citizen, 12/25/19)
The UND team ranked first in the United States with a 17-4-3 record in 24 conference games and a 26-5-4 record overall. Pinto was a large part of that success.
Will Pinto Keep Playing at the University of North Dakota?
During the season, there was some word that the Ottawa 67s of the Ontario Hockey League had tried to get Pinto to leave school to play major junior hockey instead. The report also said that Pierre Dorion, the general manager of the Ottawa Senators — who drafted Pinto with the No. 32 overall pick in the summer, flew to Grand Forks to talk about the decision with Pinto.
None of that was true, Pinto reported. Instead, he noted that that the Senators were happy that he was at UND. Pinto, who’s from Franklin Square, New York, had a great start to his college career. As noted, the Senators haven’t been shy about loading up with UND players. Former North Dakota star Christian Wolanin is with the Senators’ organization after three years at UND, and three of Ottawa’s highest draft picks were on the UND team this season: those players included Pinto, first-round pick Bernard-Docker (from Canmore, Alberta), and second-rounder Jonny Tychonick.
If Pinto has his way, who knows where he might play next season? He helped lead UND to a No. 1 national ranking and he likes it there. When asked if he wanted to leave, he emphatically put it this way:
“Absolutely not. I love it here. I will never leave this place. There’s no need to speculate on that. I’m staying here, for sure. Nothing’s going on. I’m a Sioux. I’m a Sioux forever. I’m not leaving.”
The Senators’ NCAA Pipeline
As long as the Senators continue to see the NCAA as part of the team’s farm system, they will benefit from lower-key players that the rest of the NHL might simply miss. There may be a lack of pure skill and offensively gifted players in the American college system, but the Senators seem to find value at the college level.
Perhaps I’m biased, but I believe there’s something that helps a young man who attends university as well as play sports. One has to develop self-discipline and maturity of a different kind. There are expectations about studying and self-denial that can only help. Plus, when an NHL hockey player’s sports career is over, there’s life to contend with – and university education can only help.
The team already has a deep system filled with those kinds of prospects, but every team needs to fill its roster with depth. NCAA players will likely always be valuable assets to the Senators organization.