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Laval Rocket centre Abbandonato seizes playmaker role on top line

“It’s definitely a dream to come onto the rink… to always have family and friends close by,” he says of playing for his hometown team.

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There are worse things in life than being a Laval Native and playing in the AHL for hometown Laval Rocket. Just ask Peter Abbandonato.

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On a slow day, it’s an eight-minute drive from his home to Place Bell.

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“It’s definitely a dream to come onto the rink every morning, to always have your family and friends close by – so they can come to the games and watch you play,” said the 24-year-old center after practice on Wednesday .

Despite standing just 5-foot-9 and 198 pounds tall, Abbandonato has been one of the Rocket’s most prolific players with seven goals and 30 points in 37 games. That’s not bad considering he was a healthy scratch in Laval’s first four games and five of his first six.

“He produces and plays well,” said head coach Jean-François Houle. “He’s very popular in the dressing room. He’s a good teammate. I have nothing but good things to say about Peter Abbandonato.

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“He gets a little more ice, more quality minutes. That really helps, especially on the power play. But he’s there for a reason; he does plays. He has a good feel for hockey and sees the ice well. He competes. He’s one of the players on our team who scores the most pucks. That shows the work ethic and desire to get the puck back. You can never have enough of players like that.”

Abbandonato played as a junior at Rouyn-Noranda before joining Syracuse in the AHL as an undrafted free agent. But as late as last season he was stuck in the East Coast League playing for Trois-Rivières and wondered and perhaps believed the odds were against him. Every pro has NHL ambitions, but Abbandonato was just trying to get out of the ECHL.

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“It’s a mindset,” said the articulate Abbandonato. “Last year when I started at the ECHL, I wasn’t happy about being relegated, especially after spending most of my first two years in Syracuse. There are two ways to look at it – you will sulk or put in the extra work to get called back. I wanted to put the work in, get better, and get called again. And I was trying to make a difference when I got the call again. I worked hard and had the right attitude. I took the opportunity and drove off.”

Abbandonato scored 25 points in 18 games with the Lions last season. In 38 games with Laval he had a total of 4-16-20. Despite not scoring since early December, he has provided seven assists in his last six games and has become the playmaker in the Rocket’s top line, between top scorer Anthony Richard and Xavier Simoneau.

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“The big difference is confidence,” Abbandonato said. “When the coach has faith in you and your game, you have faith in yourself. Getting into the lineup, getting points, noticing the coach starting to have more faith in you, pushing you into bigger moments and giving you more responsibility – that’s how you grow as a player.”

Peter Abbandonato plays between defender Mattia Norlinder and goalkeeper Cayden Primeau during Laval Rocket practice session at Place Bell Sports Complex in Laval on January 31, 2023.
Peter Abbandonato plays between defender Mattia Norlinder and goalkeeper Cayden Primeau during Laval Rocket practice session at Place Bell Sports Complex in Laval on January 31, 2023. Photo by John Mahoney /Montreal newspaper

Abbandonato still has NHL aspirations, especially after realizing that the Canadians’ head coach, Martin St. Louis, didn’t make it into the big leagues himself until he was 25. Abbandonato said it opened his eyes and gave him hope. He told himself there was nothing wrong with having an AHL career and should it prove he’s come this far, Abbandonato will know he gave it his all.

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Houle would never close the book on the prospect. “You take one step at a time,” he explained.

“For him, the next step was to secure a roster spot in the AHL. He did. Everything can happen. Many have gone from the ECHL to the NHL. You need a bit of luck on your side, coaches who like you and give you chances. We did that.”

In preparation for Friday and Saturday away games in Toronto, the Rocket received reinforcements with the return of captain Alex Belzile and Canada’s Jesse Ylönen. Forwards Anthony Beauregard, Ryan Francis and Riley McKay have been transferred to Trois-Rivières.

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