March 19, 2012

Captain Zanetti Discusses Return And Long OHL Career

by Alex Quevillon
Marc-Anthony Zanetti in his rookie year 
The Ontario Hockey League’s regular season has come to a close, and although the Ottawa 67’s have struggled to end the year, there is plenty of room for optimism. Not only because they are going into a seven-game series against a Belleville team that they went 7-0-1 against in the regular season. They are also getting a number of previously injured players back from injury. Likely the most notable sidelined body for the team in the past three weeks was Captain Marc-Anthony Zanetti.

The Richmond Hill native’s feet have taken a beating this season. One was broken blocking a shot from Niagara’s Andrew Agozzino on October 23rd, and on February 24th, he suffered his most recent injury to his other foot, getting tangled up with Barrie Colts’ Forward Ivan Telegin and going awkwardly into the boards. Zanetti returned to the lineup on Friday, playing through all three games this weekend, paired with rookie Sean Callaghan for most of the 3-in-3. "It felt really good," said the defenceman of his return on Friday night. “I'm really excited getting back in and we’re hoping to make a long run here."

Late-season, foot-related injuries to veteran defencemen aren't a new sight for Ottawa fans, either. Last year, Travis Gibbons broke his ankle against the Sudbury Wolves in the last regular season game, effectively ending his OHL career. Marc, however, wasn't worried that his recent setback would be as bad as Gibbons' frightening injury. "I knew (mine) wasn't that serious. With 'Gibby' you could tell right away that it was bad and we knew he was going to be out for a while, with me I got kind of lucky, it was only a grade 1 sprain, and I just took the extra week to make sure I was 100 percent. I was still with the guys and I went on the road trip (last weekend). I was always there for support, but it’s just nice to be back in the lineup."

Even with his return to the lineup, he played in his final OHL regular season games this past weekend and once these playoffs are all said and done, he will have to move on. When asked to explain some favourite moments, he recalled the 2010 playoffs as a big one. "Probably my second full year when we went to the second round against Mississauga. My d-partner that year was Tyler Cuma, I learned a lot from him that year that I still use to this day. It was just a really fun year that year and just learned a lot from Cuma. Overall, just hanging out with all the guys and all the buddies I’ve made."

This season has meant new challenges for the 20-year old. Although he has spent most of his time playing alongside 2012-draft eligible Cody Ceci, he points out that helping a pair of other young defenders has been just as rewarding in his new leadership role. “I’ve tried helping the young guys like (Mike) Vlajkov and Callaghan, they’ve both played really well.”

MAZ in 2008
At the beginning of the 2011-2012 campaign, it was apparent that the overager would likely be given the C on his chest. Zanetti started his long OHL career by playing six games in 2007-08. The only other player from that year’s squad who was eligible to return this year was center Ryan Martindale. Some believed that Martindale would stay with the 67’s and step into a large leadership role. Instead, he was kept in the Edmonton Oilers farm system for the course of the year. As a result, the new longest-serving 67 was practically a no-brainer to receive the Captaincy honours from Coach and General Manager Chris Byrne. After all, Zanetti seemed to be the biggest leader away from the rink. Whether it be greeting fans, putting together the pre-game music mix, or taking rookies out on road trips, it was clear that he was the squad’s leader.

“Off the ice, we’re just talking all the time, I’m taking them out and such. We’ve got a lot of good team guys here.”

It isn’t only current young guys on the Ottawa roster that are benefiting from this year’s Captain. And it may not be long until Ottawa fans see another member of the Zanetti family patrol the back end for the Barberpoles. Another up-and-comer, Marc’s younger brother Christian, was a 14th round pick of the 67’s last summer. “He watches a whole lot of my games and the mistakes I make, he tries to not make the same mistakes in his games. He’s played really well as of late. I think he’ll do really well next year and I hope he can make the team here. I’m just trying to help him, so that he isn’t too riled up and he just plays his game. ”

Of course, once this season comes to a conclusion, a new Captain won't be the only big change to Junior Hockey in Ottawa. The 67’s will head to Kanata, Ontario, and Scotiabank Place will be their new stomping grounds. "It’s definitely upsetting some of the fans there but I know the boys are very excited about playing in a big rink like that. They’ll have to adapt to it. It’s going to be a change of scenery but I’m sure they’ll battle through it and have a great year next year."

A lot of fans like to keep up with their alumni once they leave the Junior system. When asked if Zanetti had any plans for next season, he responded, “right now, it’s quiet. I feel that if we go far in the playoffs, hopefully some NHL teams will come forward with some offers. My goal right now is just to win. The farther we go, the more exposure we get, which would be good for the whole team.” As an overaged player who has been to NHL camps in the past two seasons, he remains hopeful that he will get another chance to prove himself to in the pro ranks. “If we go far we’ll be seen by scouts. And myself, (Mike) Cazzola, (Daniel) Broussard, as (overagers), maybe an NHL team will take a chance on us and hopefully they’ll sign us.”

For now, all Zanetti has to worry about is keeping his group calm and collected. They have dropped four of their last five matches, but to play a divisional rival in the first round that the 67’s have dominated all year, as well as having last year’s playoff disaster in the back of their heads, surely the Captain will have no problem rallying his troops in what hopes to be a long playoff run.

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