Wolves' all-star Pirri has sights set on returning to NHL

 
 
Updated 1/16/2018 5:22 PM
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  • Chicago Wolves forward Brandon Pirri hopes his success in the AHL translates to another chance in the NHL.

    Chicago Wolves forward Brandon Pirri hopes his success in the AHL translates to another chance in the NHL. Photo courtesy Ross Dettman/Chicago Wolves

Brandon Pirri played just one regular-season game in the Blackhawks' remarkable 2013 season, so his name is not on the Stanley Cup.

Nor is it etched into the silver plates that honor the team's fifth championship team outside their dressing room in the United Center.

What Pirri has, however, is a memory from Game 6 of the Cup Final that will remain etched in his mind forever.

Pirri, who is playing with the Chicago Wolves this season, was sitting high above the ice at Boston's TD Garden with fellow Black Aces Jimmy Hayes and Carter Hutton, along with team president and CEO John McDonough, senior vice president of operations Al MacIsaac and other team dignitaries.

After Bryan Bickell scored with 1:16 remaining to tie the game at 2-2, "there was some excitement," according to Pirri, but when Dave Bolland hit the game winner 17 seconds later, it was pure bedlam.

"We're celebrating, they're celebrating, we're all high-fiving," said Pirri, who was 22 at the time. "It was really cool because they have an image to uphold, but this is their team and they're hockey fans too. That was such an amazing way to win the Stanley Cup, and they put in all that effort into building this team."

Pirri's career was expected to take off with the Hawks the following season, but GM Stan Bowman traded the winger to Florida and it has been a roller coaster of emotions since. Almost five years after that surreal scene in Boston, Pirri now finds himself in the American Hockey League in a stadium just 15 miles from the UC.

His goal now -- as it was then -- is to find a way to be a scoring force in the NHL.

Wolves forward Brandon Pirri, who has always been able to score, says he also has improved his defensive skills.
Wolves forward Brandon Pirri, who has always been able to score, says he also has improved his defensive skills. - Photo courtesy Ross Dettman/Chicago Wolves
First taste

Pirri's one game in 2013 was the season finale at St. Louis. Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Brandon Saad, Marian Hossa, Duncan Keith and Niklas Hjalmarsson were among the regulars who were scratched because the Hawks had the No. 1 seed wrapped up.

Ben Smith scored the only Hawks' goal in a 3-1 loss, but Pirri remembered the experience because the Blues needed the victory to secure home ice in the first round.

"It was cool because it was a lot of Rockford guys coming up and I think the regulars that were playing wanted to win for us, too," said Pirri, who was taken in the second round by the Hawks in 2009. "The game was a lot closer than people thought (it would be)."

The next season, Pirri broke camp with the Hawks and scored 6 goals in the first 16 games, including a game-tying goal in the third period against Arizona in 5-4 shootout victory. He scored in the next two games -- then never registered another goal for the Hawks.

Pirri was sent to Rockford after a loss to Dallas on Dec. 3 and was eventually traded to Florida at the deadline.

"I was lucky that the guy who drafted me -- Dale Tallon -- brought me to Florida and gave me a chance to be an every-dayer," said Pirri, who also gave a nod to GM Bowman. "He could have traded me somewhere else, but he traded me to Florida to Dale and someone who believes in me. That was big."

Pirri tore it up in Florida, scoring 22 goals (with just 2 assists) the next season playing for now-Vegas coach Gerard Gallant, but the good times wouldn't last long.

Pirri played 52 games for Florida in 2015-16 and was traded to Anaheim, where he managed just 3 goals in nine games because of injuries. Last season, the Toronto native scored four times in the first seven games with the Rangers, but his minutes shriveled when the power play went dry.

"You're told you're a point guy, but you're not getting the minutes to be a point guy," said Pirri, who scored 8 goals in 60 games. "It was frustrating and a learning experience."

Photo courtesy Ross Dettman/Chicago WolvesChicago Wolves forward Brandon Pirri, center, celebrates with his teammates after a goal against Rockford.
Photo courtesy Ross Dettman/Chicago WolvesChicago Wolves forward Brandon Pirri, center, celebrates with his teammates after a goal against Rockford. -
At home with Wolves

When the off-season came, Pirri signed with the Wolves because his wife is from Highland Park and was pregnant with their first child. She gave birth Tuesday to a son, Luca Paul Pirri (6 pounds, 14 ounces).

The two met during the 2012-13 lockout season at a Cubs game and were married on June 6, 2016 -- something Pirri will also always remember as he has it tattooed on his left arm in Roman numerals.

"She's come with me everywhere," Pirri said. "It's big in the hockey world if you've got a partner that understands and puts your job first. … She's been awesome throughout it all and I'm lucky to have her."

Pirri's had a reputation of not being responsible defensively, but he believes that part of his game has improved. He certainly continues to score as he leads the resurgent Wolves with 15 goals and 15 assists, which earned him an AHL All-Star Game invitation.

Vegas coach Gerard Gallant says he believes AHL all-star forward Brandon Pirri will make it back to the NHL.
Vegas coach Gerard Gallant says he believes AHL all-star forward Brandon Pirri will make it back to the NHL. - Associated Press

"He's had a real good year," Gallant said when Vegas came to play the Hawks on Jan. 5. "He's going to get an opportunity in the NHL again for sure. We've been pretty healthy all year long, knock on wood. But he's a player that's definitely on the radar."

If Pirri doesn't earn a call-up to the Golden Knights, he hopes an impressive season with the Wolves earns another chance on a team needing a speedy sniper.

"I'm a hockey player. That's my single focus," Pirri said when asked how long he'll chase his dream. "I want to be the best hockey player I can be and I know I can play in the NHL.

"I'm waiting for that opportunity."

• Twitter: @jdietzdh

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