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By Neate Sager - Yahoo! Sports - FULL STORY
Niki Petti is ready to explore the space.
The centre who is considered one of the fleetest forwards in the Ontario Hockey League's rookie class just happened to land with the Belleville Bulls, the lone team which plays on the wider Olympic-sized sheet. For Petti, as much as it's a chance to show off his stride, playing for Los Toros might also help with developing a better two-way game. The big ice in Belleville means that running around in one's own zone can make for a marathon to get back in position.
"That's just the destination for good skaters," Petti, the No. 10 overall choice in the OHL priority selection draft, says of Yardmen Arena. "You can't help but like that ice if you're a good skater. I couldn't be more excited, although I'm nervous about it too. Playing defensively in that rink, you have to be used to it. I'm going to be practising on it every day. I've worked a lot on my defensive zone coverage this summer and reviewed some video. I'm just really focusing on things that will help me in games when we get in a scramble."
The Niagara Falls, Ont., native played with the Southern Tier Admirals in his minor midget season and is being looked upon to goose the Bulls' offence. Coach-GM George Burnett has called Petti a potentially dynamic and elite forward. Belleville, which also added talented draft-year Russian Sergey Kuptsov in an off-season trade, has a pressing need for natural scorers after scoring just 200 goals (fewer than three per game) last season.
No rookie is immune from growing pains, but the 6-foot, 175-pound Petti believes he has set himself up well for a successful launch into the league.
"I really used my time more wisely than I did in previous summers," says Petti, who will probably have a large rooting section in St. Catharines this season when the Bulls pay visits to the Niagara IceDogs. "I just concentrated more on the little things that help you be more ready for the next day, the next workout."
1. How do you describe your game to people who have yet to see you play?
"The person I try to role-model my game after is Matt Duchene [the Colorado Avalanche centre who previously played for the Brampton Battalion]. The reason why is Matt is a very explosive skater who makes a lot of plays with the puck and can obviously score when he gets the chance. I feel like that one of my big assets is my skating — being explosive and making plays with the puck, like Matt. Whatever Matt does, I try to incorporate it into my game. I think that will transition well into hockey at the OHL level."
2. At your age, there probably isn't any skill you can neglect, but what is one specific area of the game you aim to improve in as a rookie?
"Be able to handle the puck with bigger players covering me. Be able to make plays while facing that pressure, going against guys who are 6-foot-4 and over 200 pounds."
3. You were probably always one of the fastest skaters in your peer group; did you ever stop and wonder, "How did I get blessed with this?"
"I say it's genetics. My mom [Tanya] was a track runner, she had offers of scholarships from all over the States. She was a long-distance runner. My dad [Anthony] was a goalie in soccer and nearly went over to play in Europe. Soccer and running. I don't how that turns into hockey, but it did."
4. Outside of your parents, who is someone you credit with having a really positive effect on you in hockey?
"My grandfather, my mom's dad, Bob Maroney, has had the biggest effect aside from my parents on how I've been training and all that. He travels the world now and he always calls me to ask what I am up to and how my training comes along. When he comes to see me play, there's nothing else he'd be rather doing. He played hockey as well, as a goalie, so it [his experience] is kind of relatable.
"My dad's dad [Vince Petti] came to every minor midget game last year and showed up to all my events. He couldn't be happier for me. He has a hair salon in Niagara Falls and that's pretty much the destination if you want to know anything about me. He has everything, pictures, from the time I was eight until now."
5. Favourite sport outside of hockey?
"Tennis. I love watching tennis. I'd definitely be tennis if I didn't play hockey."