WHEELING - Imagine if you will, being a 20-year-old kid with a resume so good it appears as though someone fabricated it, and taking a job in a different country - far away from everyone and everything you've ever known. Now throw in the fact that at the time you're reporting for that job, your young wife, who has stayed behind, is about to give birth to your son.
Pressure? Wheeling Nailers forward Casey Pierro-Zabotel knows all about pressure.
''The first month or so it was really tough being away from them,'' Pierro-Zabotel said Thursday. ''I had a good camp but then I had to go home to be with them.
The Nailers’ Casey Pierro-Zabotel (16) has been feeling the pressure since being selected by the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2007.
''I came back and it was frustrating.''
Predictably, his game suffered. His mind needed to be on hockey full-time, but the wife and the little one made that nearly impossible.
A third-round Pittsburgh Penguins draft pick in 2007, Pierro-Zabotel, a native of Ashcroft, British Columbia, entered the professional ranks on the heels of a 115-point (36g-79a) effort with the WHL's Vancouver Giants. But suddenly the goals and assists weren't coming as easily, and his body language was giving off an aloof vibe.
''The first year was really challenging,'' Pierro-Zabotel said. ''It was a major adjustment.''
In 49 games for the Nailers last season, he scored just 41 points, including 12 goals. Clearly, changes needed to be made, admittedly starting with attitude.
''I was really hard on Zabby early,'' Nailers coach Stan Drulia said. ''He had to prove to me that he could play our style of game.
''He's come to work, shut his mouth and stepped up. He's killing penalties, blocking shots and is on the power play.''
And he's even getting into scraps, as he did last week.
''Do we want Zabby dropping the gloves? Absolutely not,'' Drulia said. ''But we wanted him to have a little push-back in his game.
''The way he's been playing has been infectious.''
The numbers suggest the comfort level has risen. He's already tied his professional career-high with 12 goals and has 28 points, while playing possessed the last month or so.
''I think everyone wants to play in the AHL or the NHL, but I'm here in Wheeling,'' said Pierro-Zabotel, who is also known as CPZ. ''You have to play hard if you want to move up.''
Drulia has said a number of times this season that he didn't figure the Nailers would have a go-to guy - a 20- or 30-goal scorer. He's glad he was wrong.
Heading into tonight's home game with Trenton (7:35), Wheeling already has a pair of guys with 20-plus in Nick Petersen (22) and All-Star Ben Street (22).
In fact, they rank second and sixth in the league, respectively, in scoring.
''I'd actually take six or seven 20-goal guys, then two with 40,'' Drulia said. ''I think the number to get to is 20, and that makes a difference.
''We've put guys in positions they aren't comfortable with - a lot of situations. But I just think there's a sense of pride with how we're going to play the game.''
News and Notes
The Nailers picked up Street and fellow All-Star Patrick Killeen on the way to their road game Friday night in Elmira. ... Wheeling has scored 149 goals, which is second in the league. ... Kelly Miller has scored a goal in three of the Nailers' four games last week. ... Petersen had 10 points (5g-5a) in four games last week.
Shawn Rine can be reached via e-mail at Rine@theintelligencer.net