BY MIKE MASTOVICH
Vincent Zaore is accustomed to taking a hit while digging pucks out of the corners.
The Johnstown Chiefs defenseman has thoroughly enjoyed a role reversal as a “new” Chiefs forward.
“Playing ‘D’ most of the time when the puck is stuck in your corner you’re the one who has to go get it and you get hit,” Zaore said on Wednesday. “Now that I have a chance to play forward I take a lot of pride in making the forecheck. I know how hard it can be for the ‘D’ to take the forecheck. I know what the other ‘D’ will feel.
“I know it’s kind of tough. Right now I’m giving the hits rather than receiving it. That’s what I love.”
Coach Ian Herbers moved Zaore to a forward position during a Jan. 11 game at Elmira. Since then he’s occasionally skated on lines with high-scorers Randy Rowe and Ryan Garlock as well as Rob Drummond and Nicholas Bachand.
“I’ve got one point (as a forward). I set up Ryan Garlock’s goal with Randy Rowe during a game in Reading,” said Zaore, a converted right wing.
“Playing forward, my role is to finish every hit and play physical. I have to make sure I’m not scored upon,” added the 21-year-old native of Ste-Foy, Quebec. “I know I have to play physical and finish on the forecheck. I need to play good in my own zone. Scoring a goal would be a bonus for a guy like me. If it happens, it happens.”
At 6-foot-2, 195 pounds, Zaore is capable of playing a physical style. In 37 games he has a goal, four points and 36 penalty minutes.
“He’s picking up on a lot of things,” Herbers said. “He’s a strong kid who can skate. He can be effective when he takes the body and finishes checks. In practice he’s starting to figure out how to put pucks in the net with rebounds and deflections.”
Zaore played five seasons in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, including four years with the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles and one with the Victoriaville Tigres. Zaore was a teammate of Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury in 2002-03 with Cape Breton.
“Before this year, I played a half season at forward during my 17-year-old season in major junior,” Zaore said. “It was a similar situation where we had some missing forwards. Coach just put me in there and I did pretty good.”
It takes time to adjust, though.
“The biggest thing is when you receive a pass or the puck and you look for the option (as a forward),” Zaore said. “Now I’ve got a centerman going down the middle or a winger on the boards. The option is the biggest thing. It’s a lot of preparation and visualization before games. I see myself doing it. I watch the other guys and see what the forwards are doing during the games and practices so that when I’m on the ice it becomes a reflex to do it.”
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Moving up, for now: The Bridgeport Sound Tigers summoned Chiefs’ leading goal-scorer Jean Desrochers for at least two AHL games this weekend.
Herbers said Desrochers might return in time for Johnstown’s Sunday home game against Trenton because Bridgeport plays on Friday and Saturday.
“Bridgeport is short a couple guys and they need a center,” said Desrochers, a fourth-year Chiefs center and former ECHL all-star. “I should be back Sunday. I’m excited for the opportunity even though I know it’s only for a couple games. I’ll try to do my best and take advantage of the opportunity.”
Desrochers previously played 16 AHL games for Springfield last season and three games with Bridgeport in 2004-05.
He has two AHL goals, both with Springfield.
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Four to go: Hard to believe, but Texas is only four points away from clinching a Kelly Cup playoff berth.
But that’s how it goes for a 35-4-7 team that has a league-best 77 points.
The Wildcatters have won seven straight games. Coach Malcolm Cameron, a former Chief, led his team to 70 points in only 43 games, one shy of an ECHL record.
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Weekly honors: Fresno’s Luke Curtin is ECHL Player of the Week ending Feb. 3 after scoring five goals and seven points for the 2-0-1 Falcons.
Idaho rookie Matt Zaba is ECHL Goaltender of the Week ending Feb. 3. He went 2-0-0 with a shutout, 0.50 GAA and .981 save percentage.
Mike Mastovich is a sports writer for The Tribune-Democrat.