Something special happens when members of a team achieve milestones together. Goals once far-fetched become more attainable. Championships become a more realistic opportunity, not just the goal every team starts their season with.
The Colorado Eagles are on a 16-game winning streak – the third longest in ECHL history. The Eagles sit atop the Mountain Division and lead the ECHL with 82 points, one ahead of the second-place Toledo Walleye. As any veteran can attest, milestones and success of this degree don’t happen by chance. Casey Pierro-Zabotel, who signed with the Eagles in August, was not unfamiliar to success before he joined the Eagles.
The British Columbia native is in his eighth season of professional hockey, and over that time has played for seven different ECHL teams (Wheeling, Cincinnati, Bakersfield, Gwinnett, Florida, Allen). Pierro-Zabotel was an ECHL All-Star in 2013, and won his first Kelly Cup championship with the Allen Americans last season.
Needless to say, he knows what it takes to flourish at this level of professional hockey, and thrive is exactly what he’s done this season. The Eagles center has 71 points overall on the season, second in the League only to 2015-16 ECHL Most Valuable Player, and former teammate with the Allen Americans, Chad Costello. Pierro-Zabotel credits his trainer, Greg Kozoris, for helping him stay in a position to be able to keep contributing.
“We do a lot of work in the summer and he keeps me conditioned really well. He’s been the biggest part of how long my career has gone so far. Also, just having the experience year in, year out, of what to do and what to expect, I think that’s helped me also.”
While his teammates clearly benefit from Pierro-Zabotel’s production on the ice, it helps to have championship experience in the locker room as well, as the race for the Kelly Cup begins to tighten.
“It’s a tough part of the year. It’s a tough stretch, you have a lot of games, and you have to prepare mentally and physically every night. You just have to expect a battle from here on out because everyone’s fighting for playoff spots.”
“I just tell them (his teammates) to have fun everyday and come to the rink and work as hard you can. I think that’s going to pay off for these young guys – if they come in and play well for us, and work hard for us, I think that’s all we can ask of them. I just hope everyone else follows suit.”
While he speaks highly of all of the organizations he was a part of, it’s clear that the Eagles have made an impression on the ECHL veteran in his first year with the team.
“They’re probably the best organization I’ve been a part of. They’ve treated me well, the fans are great. Everything about them – they go above and beyond for the players and the well being of your family.”
And family is an important piece of who Pierro-Zabotel is. He and wife Levi have a seven year old son Lane, and 8 month old daughter Collins.
“When I come home, I just try to be Dad and have some fun with them. They keep me busy for sure. My son really likes coming to games, he has a ton of fun. I just hope my daughter enjoys it too once she is older.”
At the point of the season when every ECHL player dreams of raising the Kelly Cup, Pierro-Zabotel compared his current teammates to those he played with when he won the, as he puts it, “long overdue” Kelly Cup last season.
“I think we have a pretty similar team as last year. We’ve got great depth, all three lines can play and score, great defense, we have a couple great goalies like we did last year (in Allen). When everything comes together and everyone’s playing well at the same time, I think it’s going to help for a long playoff run.
“We’ve got a great group of guys here in Colorado. We’ve overcome a lot of things, a lot of injuries and call ups and guys leaving. But the guys who have been here have stuck together and I think, just battled really well over the stretch where we were short players. I think that’s been the key to our team – we’re strong, we have great depth,” Pierro-Zabotel notes.
The 2016-17 Colorado Eagles have already cemented their names in the ECHL history book with their 16-game winning streak. But when the Kelly Cup Playoffs start in April, raising the trophy in June will be the only thing that matters. With a veteran like Casey Pierro-Zabotel in the locker room, the Eagles already have an assist.