Jack Pallitto pretty much has his future mapped out.
“I want to play hockey forever,” Pallitto said. “I want to play in college and after that play in men’s leagues probably ‘til I’m 80; or as long as I can go. I can’t even describe it anymore; it’s my favorite thing in the world. There’s just nothing better than it. I love everything about hockey. There’s nothing I’d change.”
Ironically, it was a change of positions that has helped the senior right winger and his Robbinsville-Allentown ice hockey team thrive.
Through R-A’s 3-0 start this year, Pallitto led the team with four goals and was tied with junior linemate Mitch Ducalo for second in points with eight. Last year, Jack had 19 goals and 23 assists, which were second to Ducalo in both categories.
It’s hard to believe that one year earlier, Pallitto started the season as a defenseman.
“I had played defense my entire life,” he said. “It was in January, the end of the season we were struggling scoring. Our coach at the time (Rob Davis) called me into his office and said I was going to play second line for the next game.”
To say the reaction was greeted with disbelief would be, well, the truth.
“My mouth dropped, I was shocked, I wasn’t expecting it,” Pallitto said. “I remember texting my parents and saying, ‘I got moved to forward, I’m playing forward the next game.’ They were like ‘What are you talking about?’ It was crazy.”
Actually, it was pretty darn sane. In his first game up front, Pallitto had a goal and an assist in a 3-2 loss to Lakeland.
“We had our best offensive game of the year,” he said. “We were in their zone a lot.”
Suddenly, a trend started. A week later, Pallitto was moved from defense to forward for his club team and has remained there ever since.
Imagine Dan Bergan’s delight this year when he returned as head coach for the first time since Pallitto’s freshman season and found a once-wild defenseman pumping home goals.
“He’d always been ultra-aggressive, sometimes overly so,” Bergan said. “When he first started he was a little undisciplined due to that aggression. But he had a nice offensive year last year, and he’s further developed into what I call the consummate power forward. He’s a big boy; 6-foot, 200-plus pounds. He still moves very well and is quite the force to be reckoned with.”
Pallitto’s skills are so substantial, that Bergan uses him on the power play and penalty kill along with a regular shift with his linemates—Ducalo and his sophomore brother, Charlie.
“I would say he’s got a combination of things,” the coach said. “He’s got a wicked wrist shot. He can walk off those boards on a curl play and just rip it. That’s not to say he doesn’t have a booming slap shot. I’m going to use him on the point at the power play.”
He will also wreak havoc at the opposite end of the attacking zone.
“I’ll plant him in front (of the goalie) and let him screen and cause a lot of commotion there,” Bergan continued. “That includes the dirty areas of the ice. Not just in front, but in the corners, winning those one-on-one battles.
“He does all of those things, as well as being a versatile player. On my penalty kill, I’ll put him back on defense. He’s doing a lot of things for us.”
Those impressive offensive skills did not come easy, however. Despite the fact he has been on skates since age 3 and has played club since age 8, Pallitto was more physical than finesse when it came to hockey.
He finished his sophomore season with 11 goals and three assists in nine games up front; but was pretty one-dimensional.
“I went from a defensive mentality to, in the first few games, I was just looking to score goals,” Pallitto said. “I was shooting everything I could and trying to score. That’s all I wanted to do. I still want to score but I want to make plays now.”
Scoring goals consistently, however, is more than just shooting wildly and it takes a few more skills than just checking guys off the puck, which Pallitto did as a defenseman. He vigorously accepted the challenge.
“I had to work on my stick handling a lot,” he said. “I wasn’t that good at it, I couldn’t handle the puck that well. So I worked with a ball, a shooting mat and a net in my basement. I’d just spend hours down there just shooting and stick handling. It made me a better shooter and a better stick handler.”
When Pallitto returned last year, he, Ducalo and Liam Hartmann became a potent line that would combine for 51 of the Ravens 89 goals in a 10-9-2 season.
“I don’t think I expected to have as good a year as I did,” Pallitto said. “I had really great teammates, that made a big difference. I was on a great line. Mitch is a great player. I’m with him again this year and my brother. That’s pretty cool. We were never on the same team before and now we’re on the same line.”
And while Pallitto has improved his offensive skills, his physical presence remains to give him an added dimension.
“I want to hit people,” he said. “I want to get the puck. I can hit pretty hard and I can knock guys off the puck. It does give me an advantage that I can get that puck from guys by using my body.”
Aside from his talents, Pallitto is also a team captain along with Jeremy Van Duren, Ducalo and Shane Martin. Van Duren is currently sidelined with an injury but should return later in the season.
A more unfortunate injury occurred when senior Nick Lawrence tore his ACL in gym class and will be lost for the season. It is the second such incident for Lawrence, who missed his freshman campaign by tearing his opposite ACL.
The Ravens are dedicating their season to Lawrence, who Pallitto feels probably would have been voted a captain had he not been injured.
“He was my Swiss army knife, he could do everything,” Bergan said. “This was a kid I could use as a first-line or a second-line forward, I could put him a lot of places. When you talk about the character of a team, he provides it. He has great character. Nick’s with us both emotionally and physically at our games this year.”
Pallitto echoed his coach’s thoughts.
“Nick’s an awesome teammate,” he said. “He does everything the team needs him to do. It’s really rough because he didn’t get to play his freshman year with the same injury. The two full years we had him he was an important piece. He could kill penalties, he could finish goals, he’s a good player.”
So too, is Pallitto, who is eyeing such colleges as Towson (where he has been accepted), Rutgers and Delaware to try and continue his career. Now in his third year up front, he truly feels like a forward.
“I’m really happy,” he said. “I love feeling like I’m helping the team and I feel like I’m doing a lot more helping the team up front than I would have been back on defense.”
As does his coach.
“I really liked him on defense, but I really like him at forward too,” Bergan said. “He’s gonna stay there, I think he won me over with that. That may not have been my move, but it ended up being a great move.