Commentary: Shane Pinto has one of the craziest faceoff performances you'll ever see
UND sophomore center went 18-0 on draws Friday night against Denver.
OMAHA, Neb. -- The final stat sheet was emailed to media members after Friday night's showdown between No. 1 UND and No. 4 Denver.
Like usual, I scrolled through it, looking for anything interesting I may have missed during the action. Then, I got to Page 2 and immediately froze.
It said UND sophomore center Shane Pinto went 18-0 on faceoffs.
I thought, there's no way that's accurate. Eighteen? Without losing a single one? Without a weird hop of the puck? Without a tie-up that his wingers didn't get to? Not a chance.
In 16 years of covering UND hockey, I've never heard of such a thing. Not even close.
It had to be a mistake, I thought. And that wouldn't be out of the ordinary. College hockey stat crews are often stretched thin, without the capability of easy replay access. They're prone to mistakes and misprints at times. And stat-tracking games has to be even more difficult in the coronavirus era, where press box workers are spread out.
In fact, the postgame stats from Wednesday's UND-Miami contest listed Judd Caulfield, Jackson Keane and Gabe Bast as having not played, when all three of them most certainly did. Things like that are often fixed a day or two later.
But I needed to know whether this faceoff stat was correct.
So, at about 2 a.m., I brewed a pot of coffee in my Aksarben Village hotel room, pulled up the game on NCHC TV, grabbed a pen and a notepad and started watching.
I tracked every faceoff that Pinto took against the Pioneers: Win, win, win, win, win, win, win, win, win, win, win, win, win, win, win, win, win, win. 18-0. It was legit.
Pinto went 5-0 in the first period, 4-0 in the second period, 8-0 in the third and 1-0 in overtime during UND's 4-3 victory.
He was 10-0 at even strength, 4-0 on the power play and 4-0 on the penalty kill.
He was 7-0 in the offensive zone, 7-0 in the defensive zone and 4-0 at center ice.
He was 11-0 on the left side of the ice, 3-0 on the right side and 4-0 at center.
He was perfect all night.
There's a new rule in college hockey this season that allows the attacking team to choose the side of the ice for faceoffs after icing calls or to start power plays.
UND took advantage of that four times by setting up Pinto to take a draw on the left side of the ice in the offensive zone. He won all four -- three to start power plays and one after an icing. But it's not like he ran up totals cherry-picking faceoffs under the new rule. He still won his other 12 draws.
On the penalty kill, UND used Pinto's success in the faceoff dot to its advantage.
Penalty kill coach Dane Jackson threw Pinto on the ice solely to win the initial draw and get a clear to start the penalty kill. He did that all four times he was asked. Once the puck was sent down the ice, Pinto immediately skated off for a line change.
Faceoff success isn't exactly new for Pinto.
As a freshman, the Franklin Square, N.Y., product won 61.2 percent of his draws. That's the second-best mark in program history since UND began tracking the stat in 2003-04. The only player with a better mark is Rhett Gardner, who went 62.3 in 2018-19.
When you compare Pinto's freshman mark of 61.2 to rookie marks of NHLers Tyson Jost (60.1), Travis Zajac (57.2), Jonathan Toews (55.7) and Brock Nelson (53.7), it is even more impressive.
Through two games this season, Pinto is at 37-9 (80.4 percent). He went 19-9 against Miami University in the season opener.
Pinto won his last three faceoffs against the RedHawks on Wednesday, so he will enter Sunday's game against Western Michigan having won 21 consecutive draws. The run will be difficult to continue against the Broncos, who have 2019-20 NCAA faceoff champion Paul Washe.
Washe, who won 64.5 percent of his draws last season, is 35-13 through two games this season (72.9).
In addition to his natural talent, Pinto does have an advantage at UND. The Fighting Hawks have two-time national champion-winning center Jason Ulmer on staff as a volunteer coach. Ulmer is renowned for his work in the dot with centermen.
Since retiring from his playing days in 2016, Ulmer has been with his alma mater in varying volunteer capacities. Since then, UND has finished the season ranked eighth, first, first and sixth nationally in draws. Two games into this season, UND ranks first nationally at 66.1 percent.
Four of the top five individual seasons came from guys who worked with Ulmer, too.
There's also the chance that Pinto just likes something about Baxter Arena.
Last season, in his two games in the building, Pinto went 15-2 and 20-4 in draws.
Those numbers also sound improbable, but I'll take the Omaha stat crew's word for it this time.