The club is 4-1-3 in their past eight games and 11-9-3 since their rough start, earning wins in only two of their first 15.
Signed to a three-year, entry-level contract Thursday morning, Bernard-Docker met the local media via Zoom in that same afternoon.
After a hectic day of travel Friday, it was Pinto’s turn to be in the spotlight Saturday.
Pinto along with Bernard-Docker were driven four hours from Fargo, ND to Minneapolis where the pair flew to Atlanta, then on to Montreal – one of four designated Covid-19 protocol airport locations in Canada, prior to being driven once again to their final destination in Kanata.
The 20-year old was happy to get through the day with his friend, “Absolutely, that travel day was pretty tough. Having him with me, made it a lot easier. To go through this experience with him, I’m excited,” said Pinto.
It’s been a trying few days for the Senators’ 32nd overall 2019 Draft selection, “It’s been the craziest couple of days of my life. It’s been such a whirlwind from when we lost to Duluth in that five overtime game. A lot emotions, then realizing after that, to leave all the boys – it’s just how it is sometimes, but I’m just trying to get my head around things. But I’m going to try to enjoy it at the same time,” explained Pinto.
Currently one of three Hobey Baker Award nominees as the NCAA’s top player, with Wisconsin forward Cole Caufield and Minnesota State goalie Dryden MacKay being the others, Pinto admitted his decision to leave UND after just his sophomore year was a tough one.
“It was probably the hardest one, I’ve ever had to make. North Dakota as Jacob (Bernard-Docker) said, is probably the most special place you can go as a hockey player. I grew up as a person. I met so many of my best friends. The coaching staff there, they mean so much to me. It’s definitely one of the most toughest decisions that I’ve had to make. That’s part of it. This is the right decision I made.”
Prior to making his decision to leave UND, Pinto discussed his thoughts with Bernard-Docker and Senators 2021 fifth overall pick, Jake Sanderson, who’s remaining at the school for one more season.
“I definitely talked to them. They’re two of my best buddies. I bounced some things off them to see what they were thinking. I thought I was just ready for the challenge. To have him (JBD) here with me was obviously really special. For Jake Sanderson, he obviously could’ve made the jump. He’s an unbelievable player. But going back to UND is going to be awesome. He’ll be even better.”
Pinto offered high praise of Sanderson, a United States gold medalist at the 2021 World Juniors, “He’s just a work horse. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a better skater in my whole life. He’s just so effortless. As the year went on, you watched his confidence grow with the puck. You could see what a difference-maker he could be. He’s going to get better. He’s just going to be really good in the NHL for a long time.”
Pinto, the first National Collegiate Hockey Conference player to earn top forward and defensive forward honours in the same season believes he’s ready for the next phase in his career, but understands it’s a work in progress.
“I’ve thought, I’ve always had a pretty good sense of the game. I’ve got a good IQ. My skating has come a long way. I feel stronger out there. There’s a lot of work to do. I think I can still get much better at it. I think my skating has grown a lot the last couple of years. I think my shot, my one-timers haven’t gotten better, just from a lot of reps. We do a lot of extra work with our coaching staff. All the players are so good there,” Pinto added.
“It’s a huge jump. Obviously. having this young core here, kind of learning from them. They’re kind of going through the same experience, that I’ll go through. That’ll help a lot. I think at North Dakota, the NCHC is such a hard league. It’s very similar to the NHL. Hopefully, it’s not too bad. It’s definitely going to be a challenge.”
For now Pinto and Bernard-Docker will work out alternately in the gym at the Brookstreet Hotel while they undergo their seven-day quarantine period. Senators strength and conditioning coach Chris Schwarz also sent the pair work outs that they can do within their hotel rooms.
Pinto was told by Senators’ head coach D.J. Smith that he will participate in few practices prior to playing his first NHL game, “They told me that I will get a few skates in, get my feet under me again. I don’t know if it’s Wednesday or Thursday whichever day the play. I’ll probably play.”
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The Senators are actually slated to play Friday-Saturday. There’s a chance Pinto will play then, but if not, he likely see the ice the following week in Winnipeg.
Having led the NCHC in faceoff percentage (61.9%), Pinto told Full Press Hockey he’ll start in his familiar centre position, “I’m probably going to start at centre because of faceoffs and everything.”
Pinto took his conversation with Smith to heart, said it was a key factor in signing with the club, “Coach D.J. just said I’ll get some games in, then see how you feel – see what you need to work on. Then you have a whole summer to see what you need to work on. It was a big factor when I was deciding.”
A Pittsburgh Penguins and a big Sidney Crosby fan growing up, having watched him raise the Cup twice as a youngster, the Long Island area native almost pursued a career in baseball. In fact, Pinto also played football as teen and is an avid golfer.
“When I was ages 10-15, I was thinking I was going to play college baseball, try and make it to the major leagues. My dad was a baseball player growing up. My sister played softball. My mom played softball. I originally thought that I’d be a baseball player. For some reason, it kind of just faded away, then hockey took over. It’s been a crazy ride, but it’s worked out so far. I’m grateful it has. I thought I’d be a MLB player, but that is not the case.”
The NCHC leader in goals (15), power play goals (7), PP points (13) can hardly wait to get started, “I’m excited to get going. I’m just thrilled.”