There are very few people who were born in 1990 that would be considered mature, humble, a master of their professional craft and who, just in general, get it.
St. Louis’ and team Canada’s Alex Pietrangelo is one of those very few, living in what could only be described, in Seinfeld terms, as 2014 bizarro world. He just turned 24, he’s 6-foot-3, 205 pounds, a seasoned NHL defenseman who has scored 160+ points, earns about $540,000 a month (before Uncle Sam’s cut), has won a Gold medal representing Canada, and is currently in Sochi competing for perhaps the most exclusive Canadian olympic ice hockey team ever assembled.
When compared the majority of his age cohort, Pietrangelo seems to be doing pretty, pretty, pretty good.
He stars in the role of top defenseman for the Blues, and has since joining the big club four years ago. He serves as the teams’ assistant captain and currently leads the Blues’ defense in scoring amounting 35 assists and 41 points in 57 games. The King City, Ontario native was taken with the 4th overall pick in the 2008 NHL entry draft, and has lived up to every expectation set forth before him.
The ‘beyond-his-years’ perspective is evident when you read or listen to his media interviews. He described his appreciation for the unique opportunity to compete on international sports biggest stage to Jonas Siegel of TSN.CA:
You see the skaters, you see the skiers on TV and you know that you’re a part of that group. You’re sitting in the lunch hall, the dinner hall now and you see them and you say hi and then you go out there and watch them on TV, it’s pretty special.
This guy is pretty impressive.
And maybe most impressive for the guy who wasn’t alive for the first season of Seinfeld, is his multitude of international experience, as the Winter Games in Russia will be the fourth time Alex represents team Canada hockey.
Most recently, Pietrangelo did something that hardly any hockey writer, scout or GM thought he could do at the 2011 World Championships in Helsinki, Finland: he took home the award for the World’s top defenseman while leading Canada’s blue line in points scored. He was dominant on the big sheet of ice, showcasing his top-notch speed and ability to control the play.
On international size ice, the game of puck control becomes, I hate to say it, more like a soccer match. When there is a line of players who have quick and mobile feet, coupled with great hands and play making ability, there’s a chance over the course of the game that a bit of keep away is played in the offensive zone. And considering Alex will be playing with his business-as-usual partner in Jay Bouwmeester, their ability to quickly move the puck, and themselves, out of the defensive zone will be critical for Canada. And considering that they’ll be moving the puck up to Crosby or Tavares, or Getzlaf or Perry, Switzerland cannot be the only country with impressive neutral zone play.
Even before 2011, Pietrangelo made a name for himself internationally. He played (starred) for Canada in the World Junior Championships in 2009 & 2010, winning that Gold medal for his country in ’09, and followed it up by taking home, again, the honors for the tournament’s best defenseman in ’10.
And that Gold medal win for the Canadians in 2009 may have a bit more significance on these olympics than meets the eye. It seems that the group who selected the roster in 2014 liked what they saw five years ago, as Pietrangelo will be joined again by his former ’09 teammates in John Tavares, Jamie Benn & PK Subban. This impressive list of 23 and 24 year olds are going to be battling guys like Jaromir Jagr, Petr Nedved and Ilya Kovalchuk who grew up generations before them. But Canada wasn’t the only nation to put faith in the youthful experience from players in 2009 WJ class, as Olympians McDonagh, Van Riemsdyk & Blue, Kevin Shattenkirk, were also on the USA squad half a decade ago. And Sweden, who earned the Silver medal against Canada, have a handful of oh-niners on the 2014 Olympic lineup, notably Erik Karlsson and Marcus Johansson.
So if you’re somewhat of a nervous ageist, living between St. Johns and Surrey, just sit back, relax, grab an afternoon Molson, and watch the show that Pietrangelo and these ‘kids’ are going to put on in Russia. I have a strong suspicion that this will be the tournament where Alex shows his breadth of assortment of talents, and will open up the discussions about his standing as best defenseman in the world.
And while they may still look young and naive, these kids aren’t showing up to bizarro Sochi with a briefcase full of crackers, Pietrangelo and crew will be TCB- you know, taking care of business.