Making a positive first impression is something that hasn’t come easy for Walleye forward Paul Zanette throughout his hockey career.
As a freshman at Niagara University, Zanette broke his foot while participating in a routine fitness test during his first day on campus. In one awkward turn on a gravel path, the beginning of his college career came to a pause.
ON THE HOOK
with Paul Zanette
Jersey Number: 9
Ht./Wt: 6-1, 210
Hometown: Nobleton, Ont.
Born: April 8, 1988
Favorite way to spend time away from the rink: Relaxing, whether it's going for a walk or jog, or just hanging out playing video games or watching TV.
Hockey player you admired growing up: Pavel Bure
Favorite sport to watch other than hockey: Golf
Favorite type of music: Country
Favorite food: Chicken parmesan
Have you ever eaten Walleye?: No
Favorite beverage: Sprite
Best fast food: Taco Bell
Favorite Movie: No Strings Attached
Favorite TV Show: White Collar
If you could meet any person, dead or alive, who would it be?: Johnny Cash
Favorite place you've been to?: Florida
What's your hockey superstition?: None
Nickname: Zetter or Z
What song would you like to have played when you score a goal?: "Bullets in the Gun," by Toby Keith
Something nobody knows about you: My mom dated a prince.
This year, his first full season in the professional ranks, Zanette broke his hand in the Walleye’s home opener. Nearly two months passed before he returned to the ice in early January.
“I do not have the best luck with injuries,” Zanette said.
When he’s healthy, good things generally happen.
Zanette, a 2011 Hobey Baker Award finalist and an NCAA All-American, was named the Walleye player of the week Monday after recording one goal and three assists last week. All four of his points came Friday in a 5-4 win at Kalamazoo.
Zanette returned to Toledo on Jan. 18 after spending almost two weeks at AHL Rockford. That experience lasted only five games and produced zero points, but it served as a momentum booster for Zanette.
“I was frustrated that I really haven’t gotten a chance to play up there, and I did, and I played well,” he said. “I know I can play at that level. When I got here, I wanted to prove I can play well here.”
Toledo (18-23-4) must jump three spots in the ECHL standings to snatch a playoff berth. That quest begins Wednesday with a road game at Cincinnati followed by a game Friday at Wheeling. The Walleye will return home Saturday to host Cincinnati at 7 p.m.
In his first game back after the injury, Zanette assisted on the go-ahead goal in a home loss to South Carolina. He followed up that showing with a goal and an assist in the next game, an overtime loss to Wheeling.
In 16 games with Toledo, Zanette has four goals and six assists.
“Obviously, having an injury your first pro season can be discouraging, but you have to give him credit,” said left wing Joey Martin. “His attitude is always great. He’s working hard. You can definitely tell he’s playing with confidence. He’s playing really well right now.”
Martin’s and Zanette’s relationship dates back to five years ago when they captured the Canadian national championship with the Aurora Tigers, a Ontario Junior Hockey League team that finished that season 44-4-1. Members of that team reunite every summer for some fun and reminiscing. Last year, the setting was Wasaga Beach in Ontario. A Las Vegas trip might be in order in 2012, Zanette said.
Martin said his experience playing for Aurora “was something special.”
Zanette said he feels the same way.
“I took a year off after high school just to play hockey,” he said. “It was pretty fun. It’s kind of like the life I live now. I get up and all I have to worry about is hockey.”
At Niagara, Zanette didn’t hit his stride until his final season. As a freshman, he suffered the broken ankle. Walleye captain Kyle Rogers, a senior at Niagara at the time, likes to rib Zanette about the injury. His sophomore year he blew out his knee near Christmas and played in only 23 games. After totaling 21 points his junior year, Zanette propelled himself to the highest level of college hockey his senior year, as he was named one of 10 finalists for the Hobey Baker Award — the Heisman Trophy of college hockey. For the year, he scored 29 goals in 35 games and finished with 55 points — five more than his first three years combined.
Zanette said many people were “not shocked, but surprised” by his ascent.
“We had a pretty good team and when your team’s good, personal success comes too,” he said. “Going to a small school and being named a Hobey Baker finalist and an All-American doesn’t happen often, so it was pretty special.”
TRADE: The Walleye traded goaltender Ryan Zapolski to the Gwinnett Gladiators for future considerations. Zapolski appeared in two games with Toledo and went 1-1-0 with a 2.02 goals against average and a .932 save percentage. Zapolski was activated from injured reserve last Friday.
PURPLE POWER: The Walleye will return home on Saturday to play the Cincinnati Cyclones at 7 p.m.
That night is “American Cancer Society Night,” in which fans are encouraged to wear purple. For tickets, call (419) 725-9255 or visit toledowalleye.com.