Matt Lorito soaring with Griffins as he vies for a shot with the Wings

Author: Herb Garbutt,
Date: Feb 14, 2017

It wasn’t high-stakes hockey. Really, it was nothing more than an exhibition game. A 3-on-3 tournament to be precise.

But put 24 players on the verge of their big breakthrough on the ice together, toss in bragging rights and a bit of prize money, and it’s bound to get competitive.

So while Matt Lorito wasn’t feeling the pressure he might during a playoff game, he certainly wasn’t going to pass up the chance to win the American Hockey League all-star game.

“You’re kind of there for fun, but at the same time you want to win,” the 26-year-old said.

Goalies had ruled the day, keeping the game scoreless through regulation and three-and-a-half rounds of a shootout. Now Lorito had a chance to end it.

He had two goals and an assist in a 5-3 win that clinched the Central Division’s spot in the final, but the shootout had not been kind to the Oakville native.

He had been stopped on all three attempts this year and was 0-for-3 the previous season. Toss in another failed attempt during the skills competition the previous day and the odds were clearly not in his favour.

“I kind of had an idea what I wanted to do,” Lorito said. “It was just a matter of executing.”

As he stickhandled in on Zane McIntryre, Lorito pulled the puck to his backhand. As McIntyre followed him across the crease, Lorito slipped the puck through his legs for the winner.

Executing is what Lorito has been doing all season. For all of his brief AHL career for that matter.

After graduating from Brown University in 2015, Lorito signed with the Albany Devils. He was scratched for his first three games with the team but then scored in his pro debut. He capped his first AHL season with a five-point game against Syracuse that gave him 12 points in 11 games.

“I didn’t have a great senior year at Brown, so it was a fresh start to get back what made me successful,” Lorito said. “I didn’t really have any expectations but then a couple of guys got hurt and I was lucky to get into the lineup, and once I got in I didn’t come out.”

In his first full season, while still technically a rookie, he led Albany in scoring with a 54-point season.

When his contract expired this summer, he landed a two-way contract on the first day of free agency. That the deal was with the Detroit Red Wings, the team he grew up cheering for, was the icing on the cake.

“It wasn’t the deciding factor, more of a cool thing that it worked out that way,” he said. “My agent was in talks with a few teams and Detroit really wanted to get it done and came in with a nice contract.”

Lorito has rewarded the team’s faith in him. He was fourth in the AHL scoring race before being sidelined with a shoulder injury in early January. Despite missing three weeks, he still ranks second on the Grand Rapids Griffins with 35 points in 36 games and leads the team with 23 assists, many of which have contributed to a league-best powerplay.

While Lorito hasn’t got the call from the Wings yet, seeing the likes of former Wing and now team executive Kris Draper around the rink is enough to remind him how close he is.

Lorito knows there is still work to do to achieve his goal. Undersized at 5-foot-9 and 171 pounds, he has benefitted from a switch from centre to the wing.

“I have to keep working on getting stronger in one-on-one battles,” he said. “I’ve improved my defence from last year and I want to be one of those guys the coach can rely on whether we’re up a goal or down a goal.”

For now, he knows the key is contributing to Grand Rapids’ on-going success. The Griffins, 29-13-3, lead their division and have the third best record in the league.

“I’m working hard down here and staying focused. I just want to help the team win any way I can,” he said. “Hopefully that puts me in consideration for a call-up. If and when that does happen, hopefully things go well.”

The plan is in place, now all that’s left is to execute.

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