As a junior hockey veteran with some experience from the Tier II North American Hockey League, Devin Panzeca was a resource for East Coast Wizards linemate Dylan Schuett in his first year of junior hockey.
Panzeca said he tried to offer useful advice to his younger teammate, who he in turn credited with giving him a push because of a strong, off-ice work ethic.
The mutual positive influences played a role in Panzeca earning Eastern Hockey League Most Valuable Player honors while Schuett was named Rookie of the Year.
“It was his first year away from home and we were pretty close off the ice as well,” Panzeca, a 21-year-old right wing from Lake Zurich, Illinois, said of his center, a 17-year-old from Medicine Hat, Alberta. “ … It was just small things like keeping his head when things are a little frustrating or small plays that happen here or there.”
While finding a linemate he worked well with was a boost for Panzeca, his 2.16 points-per-game average was also the result of a green light given by Wizards coach and general manager Freddy Meyer after Panzeca joined the team in October.
“I think a big part of it was getting freedom to play the game the way I like to play, which is more offensively,” Panzeca, who scored 93 points in 43 EHL games, said in a phone interview.
After being released by the NAHL’s Amarillo Bulls early in the season, Panzeca weighed his options and said he chose the East Coast Wizards partly because of the proximity to the type of schools he was hoping to pursue. After a November visit, he made a February commitment to keep playing on the NCAA Division III level at SUNY Potsdam.
“Jumping up to the college level is a big jump,” Panzeca said. “I’m working on a lot of making sure I’m strong enough to be able to play with grown men.
“I need to make sure I’m strong enough to play with them and then a big thing that I’m working on is my footspeed and my quickness on the ice. I need to be a little bit faster so I can zip around a little bit more out there.”
Meyer saw improvement in Panzeca during his time with the Wizards.
“He got better and better as the year went on with us,” Meyer said, according to a story on the league website.
The EHL announced its other end-of-season awards recently.
Chris Cerella of the eventual champion New Hampshire Avalanche was named Coach of the Year after leading his team to a 39-7-4 record. The Avalanche clinched the New England Division title in January.
“To do what Chris did with a first-year team is beyond impressive,” EHL Director of Hockey Operations Mark Kumpel said.
The league’s other major awards were: Goaltender of the Year, Nolan Egbert, Boston Junior Rangers; Defenseman of the Year, Nick Magill-Diaz, Philadelphia Little Flyers; and Forward of the Year, Joey Savel, Philadelphia Little Flyers.
Egbert, 20, from Massapequa, New York, won a league-high 26 games while posting a .928 save percentage.
Magill-Diaz, 21, from Clawson, Michigan, was the league’s top scoring defenseman with 48 points.
Savel, a 20-year-old team captain from Sterling Heights, Michigan, scored a league-record 96 points in 49 games.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc. Photo courtesy of EHL photographer Alexis Thompson.