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Spirit - Attack Game Recap: Who is Zach Nastasiuk?

Captain Zach Nastasiuk
Captain Zach Nastasiuk
Jennifer Leigh Photography

This was an exciting game, filled with fights, penalties, amazing goalie saves from one team, and laughable gaffes by the goalies for the other team.

Jake Paterson didn't play in this game, and at first I was crushed because he was half of the reason I made the 6 hour round trip trek in the first place. We found a massive silver lining however, because Nikita Serebryakov was in net for Saginaw and he kind of blew my mind with how good he is. The Spirit won this game 6-3, Serebryakov made 42 saves, and despite his team scoring 6 goals, Nikita is the reason they won.

The game started off fast paced with the Attack controlling most of the play for the first few minutes and we could tell right away that it was going to be a much more fast paced, physical game than the Spirit/Colts game the previous weekend. There were a total of 60 penalty minutes handed out in this game, and Saginaw scored their first goal on the powerplay only 4:01 into the 1st period. They followed up with a short handed goal about 10 minutes later, and after another powerplay goal late in the 3rd, had themselves a 3 goal lead after only 1 period. The Spirit become very undisciplined mid way through the 2nd period. They had a 5-1 lead but let the attack players get under their skin and the penalties just kept coming. Several times there were 2 or 3 players from each team in the penalty boxes at once. The Spirit went on to win the game 6-3.

Zach Nastasiuk didn't have any points in this game, but he still impressed me big time. Captain Zach Nastasiuk didn't have any points in this game, but it wasn't for lack of effort and discipline. The Attack goalies were attrocious, and they both got the opportunity to show us this because Brandon Hope played the first period, allowed 3 goals on 7 shots, and Jack Finn played the remaining 2 periods. Finn wasn't a whole lot better than Hope, but he was a lot luckier, yielding 2 goals on 17 shots.

  • Discipline: In a game featuring 60 penalty minutes, and a near constant parade between the penalty boxes in the 2nd and 3rd periods; not only did Nastasiuk not have any penalties, but he kept his cool the whole time. It would have been understandable to get frustrated when your team is down by 4 goals, your goalies suck, penalties abound, and the opposing goalie is making big save after big save. I never saw Zach even come close to losing his cool. Several times a Saginaw player would skate by him and push him, shove him, or even whack him with a stick, but Zack didn't even look at the other player or even acknowledge that he existed. He was calm, cool and collected the whole time, and given all the altercations that took place in the game, that says a lot about him. Zach's composure and focus looked so out of place in contrast with careless, angry, frustration showed by a lot of the other players. Throughout this penalty filled, undisciplined game, Zach Nastasiuk showed over and over again why he's the Captain. He set a phenomenal example for his teammates and led by example. When Zach was named team captain, his coach said "“Zach leads by example with his incredible work ethic.”, said Head Coach Greg Ireland. “He does things right at both ends of the rink and is a great ambassador for our hockey club both on and off the ice.” That statement was evident throughout the game tonight.

  • Vision & Awareness: Nastasiuk must trust his eyes to Dr. Rahmani, because his vision is fantastic. He sees opportunities, lanes, and options that most of the kids in this league don't. His awareness of where he is, where the other players are, and where the puck is seems to be at a much higher level than his peers. It's like he processes the game faster than most of the kids he's playing with and against. At times it looked like he knew where all the other players were, even without looking, and he could make very good, very smart passes look effortless because he didn't have to figure out where people were, or where they were going to be; it was like he already knew ahead of time so when he got the puck he already knew what to do with it. When it comes to vision, awareness, processing the game, and "hockey smarts" I guess I'll call them, Zach looked like a man among boys.

  • Skills: Zack isn't a flashy player, and he doesn't usually make the plays that wow you. He may not have that one thing he's the best at, but he seems to do everything very well, and with a high level of dedication, attention to detail, and responsibility. Skating, passing, positioning, puck control, shooting, communication with his teammates, and pretty much everything else he did with confidence, competence, and hard working dedication. He's a player who can do whatever needs to be done, and whatever his coach and team needs at the time. No frills, not flashy, just good, solid, and responsible. That's a great foundation to have, especially at this level. A lot of the kids coming out of the OHL have the offensive part of their game down (against boys at least) and have to learn the other aspects of the game later. I think that's a big part of what causes their severe growing pains when they get to the AHL. It's too early to know anything for sure, but I kind of suspect that Nastasiuk will have less of a difficult time adjusting to the AHL than Jurco did and Frk is; mostly because he has a much better grasp on the "all around" aspects of the game. No player in the OHL is going to be a "complete" player, but I think Zach is much closer to it than most of his peers.

  • Playing Time: It looked like Zach was playing on the second line at even strength, and he had both PP and PK duties as well. He played typical 2nd line minutes through the first half of the 1st period, but when Saginaw got a 2-0 lead, his coach started double shifting him. The double shifting continued for the first half of the 2nd period, and I think the biggest reason Zach had less ice time int eh 2nd half of the period is because there was so much nastiness (heh), fighting, and fisticuffs going on. Nastasiuk was also double shifted for most of the 3rd period and it really wasn't until the last few minutes of the game, when I could see the fatigue setting in. It seemed like Zach was on the ice for over half the game, and the fact that his coach wanted him out on the ice so much when the team was down, to try to make a comeback, says a lot about what kind of player he is. There were a couple times when Zach was on the ice and he was pulled off right before the faceoff, and one of those times was right before the first fight. It was apparent that Owen Sound didn't want someone going after Zach or trying to hurt him. It definitely wasn't because the coach thought Zach would lost his cool. On the PP, Zach filled the net front role, and he did it with confidence, authority, and steadiness. The first Attack goal came on the PP at the beginning of the 2nd period with Zach screening the goalie. He didn't pick up an assist, but he deservs a screeners assist and a maybe a bonus plus for doing such a great job of screening the goalie while staying juuuust outside the crease, and not letting any of the hacking and whacking minimize his focus. Offensive zone, defensive zone, powerplay, penalty kill, needing to score a goal, whatever the situation was, Zach was on the ice.

  • Focus: His focus was apparent throughout the game, and I already mentioned it in regards to him not giving the time of day to the Spirit players who tried to goad him into losing his temper. His focus was apparent everywhere, including in front of the net. There were several times when Zach was in front of Serebryakov, screening him and giving him grief. Nikita took a few chops at Zach's legs on more than one occasion, and Zach didn't even act like he noticed. He didn't move, he didn't flinch, he didn't look away, he didn't  do anything other than his job.

    • Size: Nastasiuk is 6'2" 196 pounds, and he looked bigger on the ice than I expected. He was far from the biggest guy on the ice, but he just seemed to be stronger and more solid than the average OHL player. He didn't play a physical game, but he used his his size and strength to be strong on the puck, and also very solid in front of the net. I think I only saw him make a hit once, and I don't recall him getting hit at all. Considering how extremely physical this game was, how many glass rattling hits there were, and how much time Zach spent on the ice, I think it's a testament to his hockey skills that he didn't need to engage in the physicality of the game.

    • Compete Level: In a game where his team had a 3-4 goal defesit for a significant portion of the game, Zach brought it every shift (all eleventybillion of them). Towards the very end of the game, there were a couple shifts where he looked tired, and like he was trying to single singlehandedly stage his team's comeback; but considering he played so much of the game, I'm only surprised the fatigue didn't set in sooner. The kid was like the energizer bunny.

    • Speed: Zach doesn't have blazing fast speed, but he's definitely quicker than the average skater we saw in the game. Thanks to his quick thinking, on ice awareness,  and above average speed, he had a breakaway opportunity that he just wasn't quite able to put into the net. It was near the beginning of the second period, in the neutral zone, just outside of the Saginaw defensive zone when the Saginaw defenseman had the puck, paused too long, and fumbled a little bit. Zach recognized the defenseman's hesitance, and took advantage of the situation. He raced towards the defenseman, stole the puck from him, got around him on the boards and cut towards center ice for a shot on goal. Full credit here goes to the Saginaw goalie who got over to his left quick enough to (barely) make the save. The puck bounced back out off his pads however, hit the leg of the defenseman who gave up the puck and bounced in towards the right side of the net. The puck had a wide open spot to enter the goal, but hit the goalpost and stayed out. That was a great scoring opportunity created because of Zach's awareness, recognition, and speed.

    Here's the official box scoreSpirit Recap, and Attack Recap for further reference. Zach is second on the Attack in points and goals Source Here. I don't want to minimize his offense, because obviously that's important, and as good as he is offensively, it's all his other qualities and skills that impress me even more. I definitely understand what the Wings see in him, and why the signed him to his entry level contract last Friday... the same day I went to see him play... coincidence? (probably, but where's the fun in that?)

    Bonus: Nikita Serebryakov isn't a drafted goalie yet (he'll be eligible in '14) but good lord is he good. By the end of the game, I wasn't even that disappointed that I didn't get to see Jake Paterson play again, because Nikita was that good. He made amazing saves, and I think Paterson's vision and skills may be rubbing off on him. Some of his saves I have no idea how he even saw the puck, much less made the save. Owen Sound got 42 shots on him, and only managed 3 goals, and one was on the PP. I am very interested to see where he goes in the draft, and who takes him.