Hockey in Europe isn’t exactly known for physical play the way the game is played in North America.
However, in the pro leagues in France that isn’t the case.
“It’s actually very physical,” said Wilk+es-Barre/Scranton Penguins defenseman Kevin Spinozzi. “The teams over there can have as many North American players as they want, and that brings a lot of grit to the game in France.”
Spinozzi should know, as he spent the 2010-11 season playing with U-18 teams in France when he 14.
Spinozzi’s father, Frank, is the head coach of the Bisons de Neuilly-sur-Marne, a pro hockey team in Paris. While Spinozzi has never played for his father, he did spend a season in France playing for HC Amiens Somme and came away impressed with the French style of hockey.
“It was actually better than I expected. I go back there every year and the hockey keeps getting better,” Spinozzi said. “It’s actually a really good hockey league and I think hockey in France is underestimated.”
Spinozzi’s experience playing in France, where the games are played on a larger ice surface that is typical in all of Europe, has benefited his game in North America. Before turning pro this season, Spinozzi spent the last five seasons playing in the Ontario Hockey League.
Prior to his junior career, Spinozzi played a season in France as a 14-year old in a league with older players.
“Playing with the older guys really helped me, and playing on the bigger ice opens your eyes a lot more and you can make better plays,” he said. “Bringing that back to the smaller ice surface of North America and having that confidence really helped me.”
During his five seasons in juniors, Spinozzi established himself as a solid defenseman who was able to contribute offensively. Last season with the Sarnia Sting, when he served as team captain, Spinozzi notched a career high in both goals (13) and points (41).
Despite the offensive production, Spinozzi said defense remains his main focus.
“I’ve always been told defense makes offense. If my defense is good my offense will follow,” he said. “It’s always nice to put up points, but my main focus is to keep the puck out of my net. If I do that, odds are it will go in their net once in a while.”
Spinozzi went undrafted during his junior career and came to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s training camp as a tryout this year. He impressed enough to earn a professional tryout contract, appearing in six games.
From there, he did enough to earn a contract for the remainder of the season, and despite playing sparingly early in the season, Spinozzi’s ice time has increased due to injuries on the blueline and call-ups to Pittsburgh.
Entering this weekend’s action, Spinozzi has a point and is a plus-3 in seven games.
“We have a lot of defensemen so it’s tough to get into the lineup, which makes it more important to practice hard,” he said. “But playing in four games in a row (Dec. 10-16) really helped and you get confidence just being in the lineup every night.”