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  • Writer's pictureBrandon Caputo

Niagara's Jack Gatecliff Arena special to NHL star Alex Pietrangelo

Brandon Caputo

Photo Credit: Claus Andersen

Alex Pietrangelo is now a two-time Stanley Cup champion in his 15th National Hockey League (NHL) season but the now 34-year old King City, Ontario native still looks back fondly of his two years spent in the Niagara Region, playing at the old Jack Gatecliff Arena dawning the Niagara IceDogs jersey in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL).

The six-foot three, 214 pound, right shot defenseman accumulated 82 points in 96 games from the backend during his time in Niagara serving as the team's captain in 2008, before being traded to the Barrie Colts in exchange for another future IceDogs star in Ryan Strome.

During his time in Niagara, Pietrangelo claimed many accolades including:

  • CHL Top Prospects Game participant

  • OHL Third All-Star Team

  • OHL CHL Subway Super Series

  • OHL Third All-Star Team

  • U20 WJC Gold Medal

Pietrangelo would go on to add many other accomplishments to his resume in his final OHL season with the Colts, before being called up to the St. Louis Blues, the team who made him the fourth overall pick in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft as a member of the IceDogs, graduating to the professional portion of his hockey career.

Fond memories of "The Jack"

Photo Credit: Kevin Jordan

Pietrangelo was originally drafted by the Mississauga IceDogs third overall in the 2006 OHL Priority Selection draft and spent his rookie season in Mississauga before the franchise relocated to St. Catharines for the 2007-08 season. The talented defenseman spoke about the initial culture shock after the move to Niagara.

"We all went to that rink the first time not knowing what to expect" said Pietrangelo. "It was a big change for us coming from Mississauga and they did a good job of making the best of what it was. Hurts my childhood feels a little bit knowing that it’s now gone, it was a special place" Pietrangelo added after being told that the legendary hockey arena in downtown St. Catharines met it's final demise, via demolition in July of 2023.

"Time goes by fast but you’re grateful for those opportunities and you have to be thankful for the people you played with, Niagara was a fun place to play" said Pietrangelo . "A little quirky but we made the most of what it was." The arena nicknamed "The Jack" had it's final curtain call as the home for the Niagara IceDogs during the 2013-14 season, before the state of the art Meridian Centre was completed just a minute down the road for the start of the 2014-15 OHL season.

Pietrangelo says that the people and the city will always be a part of his hockey journey and enjoys getting to see St. Catharines from time to time, passing through on his way home during the offseason.

"You see guys in passing every once in awhile but the city was great especially coming from Mississauga, which much bigger city but the Niagara Region embraced us and took us in really well" said Pietrangelo.

"St. Catharines was a beautiful city to live in. I drive through every once in awhile if I come from Buffalo to get to Toronto which brings back great memories and simpler times."

Fast transition to NHL level thanks to OHL experience

Photo Credit: Aaron Bell/OHL Images

Pietrangelo did not take long to transition from the junior hockey ranks up to the pro game. The Blues prized defense prospect made the full-time jump to the NHL during the 2011-12 season after a cup of coffee experience with the Blues and their American Hockey League in Peoria the two season prior.

Pietrangelo credits his decision to choose the OHL and Canadian Hockey League over going the NCAA college route as his best opportunity to make his dream of playing in the NHL a reality, due to the high level of development and track record the league had of graduating players to the pro level.

"For me it felt like when I was deciding between going to the College route or junior hockey, the OHL was the opportunity I needed to get myself ready to get to the NHL level" said Pietrangelo.

"The travel was not easy but I think when you’re a bit younger you don’t mind the bus rides because you don’t know any better" Pietrangelo said jokingly. "You get pickier as you get older, I certainly do now as a person in my 30’s."

"You’re playing against some of the best players in the world of your age group. A lot of guys, not just the Canadians, but all over the world come to the CHL so that leads into the Top Prospects Game and Canada vs Russia series and all of those opportunities you have to pay best on best with a ton of national exposure" Pietrangelo added.

"You have a lot of good people and good hockey minds who have a lot of experience and I think that’s a great stepping stone for a lot of guys to go through the OHL level."

Keys to success and longevity in the NHL

Zak Krill/NHLI via Getty Images

As mentioned earlier, Pietrangelo is currently in his 15th NHL season, having played in over 1000 career games at the highest level of hockey in the world. The now member of the Vegas Golden Knights talked about how he's been able to stay consistent and reliable during his long NHL career.

"I think you always want to push yourself to be better" said Pietrangelo "The game has changed a lot since I began and you have to find a way to adjust and adapt to push yourself to be better."

The now 34-year old family man talks about his overall physical and mental health being a priority on and off the ice, which has helped him remain his high level of play.

"Health has been a big thing for me and now that I’ve gotten older that’s helped carry me through is finding the balance between life and hockey" said Pietrangelo. "I’m blessed with a beautiful family now, which is the main priority when I go home and then come back to the rink refreshed everyday because the house is pretty busy these days."

"It’s a great opportunity for me and my kids to watch me now. My kids are starting to play and it’s pretty special when they understand what’s going on, getting to see dad on the ice."

High praise from a former adversary turned head coach

Photo Credit: L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Review-Journal @Left Eye Images

Pietrangelo's head coach Bruce Cassidy spoke about gaining a higher appreciation for his overall game since joining Vegas for the 2022-23 season after a successful tenure as head coach of the Boston Bruins.

"When I saw him in St. Louis I thought he was more offensively tilted kind of powerplay guy" said Cassidy.

"Now I get to be around him here in Vegas and he’s actually one of our best penalty killers and most competitive people to keep the puck out of out net."

"I guess he’s more of a complete player than I would have thought just from watching him here and there. Although I did have a pretty good look at him for 7 games in the Finals with Boston a few years ago against St. Louis" Cassidy referenced as he reflected on the 2019 Stanley Cup Finals, which Pietrangelo's then St. Louis Blues defeated Cassidy's then Boston Bruins in a hard fought final series on route to hoisting hockey's ultimate prize.

"I guess my opinion started changing then but I think I just have a bigger appreciation for his all-around game, his ability to play upwards of 24 minutes a night, hard minutes on the penalty kill, last minute of games, or matching up with other team’s top lines and still able to create offense" Cassidy concluded.


Lasting bond with another former IceDog

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During Pietrangelo's tenure with the St. Louis Blues, he grew a bond with another former IceDogs grad in defenseman Vince Dunn. The pair spent three seasons together with the Blues from 2017-20, where they went on to win a Stanley Cup together as well as an NHL record on March 19, 2018, when the defensive pair became the first defensemen in St. Louis Blues history to record at least four points apiece in a game.

"Being with Alex in St. Louis, we had some things to relate to during our times in Niagara, he was a great mentor for me there when I started in the NHL," said Dunn who spoke highly of his elder IceDogs alum.

Pietrangelo had high praise for Dunn, despite now being on rival expansion clubs in the Pacific Division with the Seattle Kraken and Vegas Golden Knights. "Rivals or not, we’re still two people who played and won a Stanley Cup together" said Pietrangelo.

"Dunn has become a pretty special player in the league and he’s had a lot of success since going to Seattle. We played together a lot as defensive partners in St. Louis. I take a lot of pride in trying to help the young guys and Vince is certainly one of those guys I enjoyed helping, he’s really turned into a great player."

Pietrangelo went on to say that the type of bond that he shares with his former defensive partner are the types of relationships that make the game of hockey special, even when your time together comes to an end.

"Vince is a really a good person too, I saw his Dad not that long ago when we were playing in Seattle so those are the relationships you want to cherish" said Pietrangelo. "He texted me for my 1000th game too so those are the bonds you want to keep beyond your playing career and life after hockey."


Needless to say that Pietrangelo is on his way to becoming enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame one day when his accomplished NHL career comes to an end but the experiences he had and the friendships he made during his time in Niagara and the Ontario Hockey League as a junior hockey player will be ones that he will cherish long past his playing days.

"It was a great time, I made a lot of friends and it was a fun time being a junior hockey player. You make a lot of friends during that time in your development as a player and a young man, life was a pretty simple back then" Pietrangelo concluded. "We were good and had really fun teams, which obviously made it a lot better of an experience during my time with the IceDogs."


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