Sports Hockey

Barrie native has become one of the OHL's best shot blockers this season: coach 0

By Bill Walker, Sun Times, Owen Sound

Owen Sound's Zach Nastasiuk fights for a loose puck against Plymouth's Curtis Crombeen Wednesday night.

Owen Sound's Zach Nastasiuk fights for a loose puck against Plymouth's Curtis Crombeen Wednesday night.

OWEN SOUND - 

Barrie native Zach Nastasiuk is hoping a little pain will result in a lot of gained playing time.

The Owen Sound Attack winger has become one of the Ontario Hockey League team’s top shot blockers this season, throwing caution to the wind as he rushes to get in front of shots.

“Everyone does it at the next level, so if it’s going to get me more ice time and penalty kill time, it’s something I’m willing to do,” the 17-year-old said Wednesday prior to Owen Sound’s 4-2 win over the Plymouth Whalers, which put the Attack atop the OHL standings.

“It might hurt, it might not. Who cares," he added. "I just want to get in front of the shot.”

Last season, Nastasiuk would never have been given the task of killing penalties on a regular basis, especially late in the season when he noticeably faded.

“I think the last two-and-a-half months he was worn down because he played a lot and had a lot of responsibility for a first-year kid,” Attack coach Greg Ireland said. “He’s probably one of our top two shot blockers on our team. And he’s committed to defence.”

His offence has improved as well. Nastasiuk has three goals and two assists in eight games this season. Last year, he finished with 11 goals and eight assists in 68 games.

“I think he’s probably short (this season) five or six points that he’s worked for,” Ireland said. “Shots that have jumped over sticks or had just missed but were glorious opportunities.”

Nastasiuk knew he had to get stronger to withstand the rigours of the OHL season. He spent the summer in the gym and on the ice.

“I got back in the gym and then on the ice once or twice a week,” he said. “The biggest difference from minor midget to the OHL was the strength of the players. I wanted to work on my strength and it’s working so far.”

Nastasiuk regularly lines up with rookie winger Jaden Lindo and centre Joseph Blandisi. And the two big wingers have proven to be tough to handle down low.

“(Lindo) and I play the same game and (our line) will only get better as (we) get more comfortable,” said Nastasiuk, who feels better prepared to handle the OHL this season.

“It’s a pretty gruelling schedule for a 16-year-old. It’s a lot tougher than minor midget.”

Nastasiuk banged up his shoulder when he was taken down away from the play early in the third period, Wednesday. He left the game and did not return, but Ireland said it didn’t appear to be anything serious.

Daniel Catenacci, Kurtis Gabriel, Blandisi and Cameron Brace scored for the Attack (6-1-0-1, first in the Midwest), which slid into the Canadian Hockey League BMO MasterCard top-10 at the 10th position.

Owen Sound also sits atop the OHL, one point ahead of idle Oshawa.

“I thought they came at us pretty hard,” Ireland said of the Whalers.

“We need a better response out of our group. We have a good group here and sometimes you need the confidence,” the coach added. “We’re not always going to be able to rely on our goaltender every night.

“There were some things that I did like. I thought our (power play) did some good things against the number one PK in the league.”

The Attack hosts the Peterborough Petes on Saturday. Game time at the Harry Lumley Bayshore Community Centre is 7:30 p.m.

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