Zack Firlotte of New Brunswick poses for a photo in Halifax prior to departing for Deer Lake to attend training camp for the Western Royals of the Newfoundland Senior Hockey League. — Submitted photo
HALIFAX, N.S. — Zack Firlotte is looking forward to his second stint of competitive hockey in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Only this time around, he will check out the sights and sounds of the west coast, plying his trade in the senior ranks.
The 27-year-old native of Fredericton, N.B. was a steady defenceman with the St. John’s Fog Devils for two seasons (2005-2007) during his Quebec Major Junior Hockey League career. Now, after five years of college hockey in the Atlantic University Sport and a year of pro hockey, Firlotte will get another chance to strut his stuff in this province.
Firlotte, son of former Newfoundland and Labrador Senior Hockey League goalie Kirk Firlotte, has signed an import card with the Western Royals for the 2013-14 Newfoundland Senior Hockey League season. He was expected to be in Deer Lake this weekend as the Royals hold training camp at the Hodder Memorial Recreation Complex.
Last year, Firlotte had one goal and nine assists in 52 games with the Arizona Sundogs of the Central Hockey League. He started the season with the Sundogs but was put on waivers, so instead of considering other CHL offers he decided he wanted a change of scenery so he ended up heading back to Atlantic Canada to be close to his girlfriend and continue his studies.
“I just wanted to get home and actually I am still doing my MA (Masters of Arts in history) through Dalhousie,” Firlotte said earlier this week. “I kind of just wanted to come home and take care of things on that end and still play some competitive hockey in the process.”
Two years ago he wrapped up his Atlantic University Sport hockey career and that’s when senior hockey teams from Newfoundland began trying to lure him to the province to fill an import card. During that time, he had several conversations with Royals president Ross Coates and the two, according to Firlotte, appeared to be on the same page and the decision was made to check out the west coast of the province on this venture to the province.
Firlotte brings a physical element to the Royals defence corps and though he will see a lot of the opposing team’s top forwards in a shutdown role, joining the rush to create offence is something Firlotte has been able to do at various levels of his hockey career.
Coming to the Royals instead of other teams came down to the identity of the western franchise, according to Firlotte. He likes the fact the Royals have a reputation for being an intimidating squad and tough to play against, especially in their own barn. He recalls how the St. John’s Fog Devils was built with the same mindset and nobody enjoyed coming to St. John’s to play them on home ice.
“That’s obviously appealing,” he said. “I know that usually when you have that identity you usually have a hard-working group of guys who just want to be there and get the job done, and work hard in the process and I think I fit into that.”
Firlotte is a left-handed shooting rearguard who takes pride in his own end of the rink with plenty of pressure applied on forwards in close quarters. He admits he won’t bring the fans to their feet with open-ice hits worthy of highlight reels, but he’s always willing to muck it out in corners and take the body when an opportunity presents itself.
“I’m a steady, stay-at-home defenceman so that was the role Ross had seen for me on the team,” he said.
Firlotte isn’t the first of his namesake to toil in the senior hockey rinks, however. His dad played 1 1/2 seasons with the Port aux Basques Mariners of the now-defunct Newfoundland Senior Hockey League back in the 1980s.
His father has shared some stories about senior hockey in Newfoundland and was quick to pass on some words of advice to him when he found out he was heading to the Rock.
“I told him to basically play his game and go 110 per cent all the time,” Kirk Firlotte said from Minto, N. B. earlier this week. “That’s what the fans will demand and that’s what the team will demand is that you show up to play every game. Nobody is perfect every game, but as long as you show them you are giving it people really appreciate hard work.”
Being familiar with the league and having followed it the past couple of years, the winner of two Hardy Cups as Eastern Canadian intermediate A hockey champions to his credit believes his son can be an effective player in the provincial senior league. He believes his son is a well-rounded hockey player who works hard every shift and can be effective in all facets of special teams, particularly the penalty kill.
“He can play physical without taking a lot of stupid penalties and that’s so important in the game right now,” he said.
Time will tell if Firlotte is a key piece to the team’s ability to defend import goalie Bryan Gillis. He’s anxious to get his first taste of senior hockey and plans on being ready to play with hopes of helping the team become a contender.
He understands the Royals want to improve on its third-place finish one year ago. He knows expectations are high on the west coast to have a winning team and imports have to be at the top of the game to make it happen.
He actually relishes the challenge.
“I feel good about it. Most teams I’ve played on have played their best when they’re in a pressure situation I find,” he said.
The Royals open the season on the road with a two-game showdown against the Grand Falls-Windsor Cataracts Nov. 2-3 at Joe Byrne Memorial Stadium. Fans on the west coast can see Firlotte making his home debut at the Hodder Memorial Recreation Complex the following weekend when the Royals host the Clarenville Caribous for a two-game series with games scheduled for Friday and Saturday night.