While the exact date of the WHL opening night may be up in the air, the Portland Winterhawks are set to hit the ground running, starting in net.
After being called up in the middle of last season, Dante Giannuzzi had a stellar showing during his second opportunity in Portland. Having started just eight times and coming in as relief once for Portland last season, Giannuzzi finished the season with a 1.68 GAA and .931 sv% with seven wins and one shutout. Heading into a new season with a clean slate and a bigger role, the 18-year-old Manitoba native is prepared to show everyone he can do it again.
On the offseason
Even with an extended off-season, Giannuzzi has not been using his time to just kick back and relax. He gave us a quick insight
“Recently, actually, for the past few months, I’ve been in Portland training. Back in Manitoba where I live, for some time now, both gyms and all ice surfaces have been closed. So me and a couple of the other Manitoba boys, we reached out to our billets to see if they’d be able to take us, and luckily they did. So we’ve been staying here for a while, skating and doing workouts.”
On how he feels heading into the season
Heading into the season, Giannuzzi says he’s feeling really good about his game right now. Getting time to work on the ice and in the gym has him believing they’re on track for a strong start to the season.
“We have a lot of good shooters in our skates and I feel well prepared. Whenever the season does get going, I feel like myself and the team will all be ready to go.”
Personal goals for the season
Winterhawks fans are more than ready to see how Giannuzzi handles a bigger role this season. The Portland goaltender has some goals for himself as he looks to keep on the trajectory he was on last year.
“I just really want to build off how I finished the year last year. I was happy with how my stats looked and how the team was playing in front of me but I didn’t get a ton of playing time so I’m looking forward to just being able to play more games and kind of build off of last year and have some success for the team.”
On what he’s been working on
Weight training and working on playing a simple game have been priorities for Giannuzzi. Focusing on making clean saves, controlling rebounds, and not over-moving so he conserves energy.
“You know, in this extended break I’ve definitely had a lot of time to work on my game which you know in a way it was a negative but I tried to turn it into a positive and just kind of say ‘Hey, there’s not going to be probably another year where I’m going to be in December and I’m going to be able to be working in the gym as hard as I was’.”
On the shortened season
In regards to playing a shortened season, Giannuzzi says he will just be happy to be playing games again.
“We’ve been you know practicing and training for so long and for a while it seemed like there was no end in sight so whatever happens I think a lot of guys will just agree with me that we’re all just looking forward to being able to play games whether we’re bubbling somewhere or whatever the regulation may be, we’re just really looking forward to being able to play some games on the ice against other players.”
“We’re all just really looking forward to getting back on the ice and playing some games.”
So are we Dante, so are we.
On divisional play
A popular topic since the end of last season has been the WHL only having divisional play. While facing only the US Division may be daunting to most, Giannuzzi is ready for the test.
“I think that’s going to be really good honestly. I feel like if we had to do divisional play the US division is where you want to be because I feel like it’s just such a challenging division with so many talented players. Overall, I think we’re really lucky to be in a division like that.”
He goes on to comment that repeatedly facing the same teams is going to be fun. Giannuzzi also brought up that it will help build bigger rivalries, which will make it more challenging but will be good for the team. Speaking of building rivalries, Giannuzzi recognized the way Everett Silvertips ended last season and how it could add motivation this year.
“Yeah, you know I think you know both us and Everett were really starting to pick up our game at the end of the season, and unfortunately, that was all cut short. So I think both teams are really going to try and pick up where we left off. And yeah definitely there’s gonna be a lot of motivation to play these teams hard. Especially with the condensed season. You know there’s not a lot of games for error so you know we’re gonna have to bring it every night and uh you know just really perform.”
On playing in Portland
Heading into the third year he’s playing in Portland, Giannuzzi affirmed that it’s going to be different without fans in the arenas.
“We have such an awesome supportive fan base. You know they come out to every game always supporting us so that’s going to be a little different but it’s been great. I love the city so much and everything. It’s a bit of a bigger city than back home for me. So when I came here, it was a bit of a change but you know, I really like it and it’s awesome. It’s super nice. I love the weather, back home it gets ridiculously cold in the winter and here it’s a nice break you know? It doesn’t snow a whole lot so it’s good. For sure. You know, l love Portland and it’s been great.”
On starting a business
Some fans may have noticed that they could purchase some Dante Giannuzzi merchandise online. Does this mean we have another Winterhawks entrepreneur on the team? Not exactly, but he’s been enjoying the experience he’s had.
“Pretty much what happened is this guy on Instagram reached out to me. He asked if he could make a logo for me with my initials. I guess that’s what he’s doing in school. He kinda described to me that he’s in graphic design and you know, okay sure. Go ahead. Pretty much he took the wheel on the whole process. I just kind of went along with it and said yeah that looks good or that maybe we should change this but you know I haven’t really been in charge of much of that but it’s definitely cool to have all that set up and seeing a little bit of profits out of it.”
Does this experience and seeing his teammates who have businesses spark an itch to do the same? Not quite. Hockey is the focus right now.
“I definitely think it’s cool like, I really support my teammates that are you know doing it. They started up from scratch and all that, but for me, my biggest goal is just to keep working on my game and you know getting better as much as I can. So you know maybe eventually but for right now I’m just really trying to just stay focused on the hockey portion and everything else is kinda side tabled.”
I had a few questions from seven-year-old Jaxon M. from Las Vegas, NV.
The first question was one we’re all secretly dying to ask: do you like playing goalie? The Portland netminder answered this one with a bit of a chuckle.
“Oh yeah, of course! Yeah. A ton of fun. For sure.”
Jaxon also wanted to know how Giannuzzi began playing goalie.
“Okay, so I started playing goalie when I was about five years old. I come from a really Italian family. So how I started, growing up in Winnipeg at the time we didn’t have the Jets, so I was a big Vancouver Canucks fan, and their current goalie was Roberto Luongo who’s just like, really Italian also so I really loved him so much. Like, I was just obsessed with him. I’d watch him like every night and I’d try to kind of mimic his movements whenever he was on TV and stuff like that. I just thought his style on the ice was so cool and I thought his pads and everything was so cool.”
“So that’s kind of how I got into it. Ever since I’ve just loved it.”
The final question from Jaxon was: if you could play another position for a game, what position would you play?
“A goal of mine is that I’ve always really wanted to score a goal so I feel like playing forward would be cool. Being goalie, it’s a lot of fun making saves, but I feel like it would be really cool to score a goal. So I’d definitely want to try as forward I think.”
With tonight's assist, Dante Giannuzzi is now tied for 54th place in points per game by WHL rookies.
Dante is a goaltender. #WHLStats
— Robert Murray (@NovaCanuck) February 17, 2020
With three assists in eight games last season, who knows, we could very well see Giannuzzi score a goal from the crease.
Final words for the fans
My final question for Dante was if he had anything he wanted to say to the fans that hadn’t been covered. He absolutely did.
“Yeah! You know obviously, they won’t be able to come out to the games this year, but you know, whatever they can do we still 100% appreciate all their support and we’re really hoping that sometime soon we’re going to be able to have them out to games and hear them chanting for us.”