Keith Petruzzelli took to the ice at C.B.S. Arena last weekend for his first two professional home games in goal for the Newfoundland Growlers.
Standing at 6’6 and decked out in the same yellow gear he sported in college the past four years for Quinnipiac University, it would be easy for the fans in attendance to be fixated on the sheer stature of the 22-year-old. Instead, it was his play across the pair of starts that had people talking as they drove back to the city last Sunday evening.
A 27 save shutout against the Adirondack Thunder on November 7 serving as the crown jewel, Petruzzelli is confident with his own game through five starts, but he isn’t forgetting his teammates contributions to the cause along the way.
“I’m feeling really good, but I think the boys have made my job pretty easy,” said Petruzzelli of his 4-1 record to open the year. “I think we have one of the best defensive groups, if not the best defensive group in the league. Even with our high skill team, guys are still very committed to playing defense and selling out to block shots.
“Of course, I’ve had to make some saves when I need to but for me it’s just about making sure I hit my spots, get square to every shot and use my size to my advantage. Things certainly seem to be going pretty well right now, but I try not to get too high or too low and just keep an even keel.”
Originally drafted by the Detroit Red Wings in the 3rd round of the 2017 NHL Draft, the Massachusetts native has now begun a new journey with the Toronto Maple Leafs organization in search of carving out a career at the highest level.
Landing in Newfoundland — a place Petruzzelli admits he previously had ‘absolutely no idea where it was or what it was going to be like’ — the first step in that journey is proving a positive one, thanks in large part to the support of his teammates.
“We are a bit of a younger group but there’s a great older core that’s really kind of led the way these first few weeks. It’s all come together very quickly but we hang out a lot away from the rink, my house has six guys so we’re hanging out together, playing video games together, we pretty much do everything together.
"We’re certainly a tight knit group and I think that makes a big difference on the ice.”
Petruzzelli cites the local food scene, hiking trails and fishing as three of the major highlights to living in St. John’s while recognizing the threat a snow filled winter poses to the latter two.
As for C.B.S, the Growlers temporary home some 20 minutes across the highway from downtown, the former Hobey Baker finalist was full of praise for all parties in what was a successful opening two weekends in Kelligrews.
“C.B.S. has been great in providing us with everything we need and it’s been great with the fans too, it might not be the biggest building but they certainly get it rocking when they’re chanting and the boys have noticed that and felt that out there. It’s been a great environment and we can’t thank them enough for being able to put it together so quickly for us.”
The transition from college to the professional ranks has proved a difficult one for many hockey players over the years with goaltenders often experiencing an even greater learning curve.
Growing more comfortable by the day to open his Growlers account, Petruzzelli has clearly proven he belongs at this level and then some in his first month with the team. Just don’t expect him to ditch those Quinnipiac pads just yet.
“I’ll stay in the yellow for a little bit but it’s time for some new gear for sure.”