When Max Pacioretty‘s name gets called next weekend in Columbus, it’s going to be another defining moment for the rising hockey star and his career. But it won’t be an end for Pacioretty, because he’s humble enough to admit he’s still got a ways to go. Given his background, it might not have never happened altogether. Pacioretty was born and raised in Connecticut, but he was not born into the hockey culture. His parents were not native New Englanders, they moved to Connecticut from California. They even missed Wayne Gretzky and hockey’s California mini-explosion.
Before Max, not a sole Pacioretty had even played the game. But his parents gave young Max the freedom to choose something he wanted to do and to let him have something he could call his own.
“When I was four years old my parents brought me to the rink for public skate,” Pacioretty recalled. “I kept going back and ended up registering for hockey. It just happened from there.”
His interest grew and he continued to play without the pressure to excel from his parents. Before he knew it, he was playing up with older kids because he got to the point where his game was a bit more advanced than other kids his age. “My parents never pressured me growing up,” he explained. “I just found hockey. It turned out to be the thing I love.”
Pacioretty’s size and skill helped him become an advanced player in the area. After a while, he knew he was in a good situation to continue to develop his game at a higher lever. As he has done his whole life, he embraced the moments when it was his time to shine, but he never let it get to his head. Keeping an even keel approach, Pacioretty didn’t flinch when the kids he passed a couple years back were gaining ground on him. Instead, he applied more pressure and pushed himself to new levels.
“I picked it up and started pushing myself harder,” he said. “I started training harder in the off-season and I started to pull away from the pack again.”
With tons of motivation he knew that in order to get the next level, was going to have to work harder off and on the ice. In order to make a swift transition, Pacioretty was forced to structure his personal life and pretty much give up the things you would find the average teenager doing. When he left home to go to Taft Prep School and then on to the Sioux City Musketeers in USHL, there was simply no hesitation. He remained positive and confident that the decisions he was making would benefit him in the long run.
“I always stayed positive about it because I knew I wanted to make as living out of hockey,” he said. “When you’re focused it’s easier to do.”
As a rookie, he fit in with Sioux City immediately and his game took off from there. In late October he was ranked in the top five in scoring in the league and he earned offensive player of the week honors. “I wasn’t expecting to do as well as I did,” he said. “I got put in a good situation where I was playing with two third-year veterans. That in itself made it a lot easier.”
Playing with Phil DeSimone and Blake Martin on one of the league’s hottest lines, Pacioretty kept plugging away. By January, he received more vindication as he was named to the West division All-Star team.
“As the season went on, things got better and better,” he said. “My confidence from the first game to the last game grew more than it has ever grown in a season.”
Not only was Pacioretty an all-star, but through his hard work and consistent play, he ended the season with 63 points (21 goals, 42 assists) in 60 games which left him tied among the top10 scorers in the league. He went on to chip in another 10 points (4 goals, 6 assists) in seven playoff games. The New Canaan native and his Muskies fell well short of capturing the 2007 Clark Cup, but through it all, Pacioretty pushed himself hard all season and it paid off. When the league’s awards were announced in mid-April, he was named to the USHL all-rookie team and captured rookie of year honors.
“They were all great accomplishments and I’m happy for that, but I can’t let that get to my head,” Pacioretty said. “I still need to progress and move forward.”
In addition to being the top ranked prospect coming out of the USHL for the 2007 draft, he’s also earned an invitation to attend Team USA’s 2007 National Junior Team Evaluation Camp later this summer in Lake Placid, New York. After that, it’s off to the University of Michigan where yet another new chapter in his career begins.
“If anything, it’s another step and a lot more motivation to get better and build upon previous success,” he replied when asked about all that awaits him this summer. “I just have to stay focused and continue to get better year after year. I have heard a lot of people say, ‘it’s nice getting drafted but it’s all about what you do after that counts.’ I agree with that because it’s really about developing and getting better so I can get a shot in the NHL.”
For now, he’s moving on and looking to improve his game each step of the way. As a power forward he acknowledges that his game revolves around using his body.
“I’m going to have to put on some more weight and strengthen my frame, but I’m going to have to be able to maintain my speed,” he explained. “I know I’m going to have to even get faster and continue to develop a nice hard shot. My skills are just as important as trying to add size and strength.”
He’s come a long way for someone who may have never found the sport. You’d have to pull it out of him, but deep down inside you can tell that Pacioretty is thrilled to be where he’s at today.
“I’m going to have work harder than I’ve ever worked before because the competition is only getting better,” he finally added.
Pacioretty takes everything in stride very well, just don’t be surprised if he continues to do the majority of his talking on the ice.
Copyright 2007 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.