Aaron Volpatti's Hockey Journey
by Don Klepp
Aaron Volpatti played 114 NHL games before injuries forced him to retire from hockey at age 30. Despite Aaron's comment that "every kid's dream is to play in the NHL," that wasn't his goal when he joined the Vernon Vipers at age 18.
A realist, Aaron says that he didn't "want to be naive about the chances of having a pro career." His goal was more pragmatic – "As a Viper I wanted to earn an NCAA scholarship and get an education through hockey. I was pretty realistic about my hockey abilities at that point."
"The culture and atmosphere in Vernon is one of a kind. You're going to learn life lessons as well as hockey lessons in that atmosphere, lessons that will be valuable your whole life. Also keep in mind that when you're part of a winning tradition you get more eyes on you, which increases your chances of getting a scholarship."
His statistics through three years of Viper tend to confirm that self-assessment. In 162 BCHL games he scored 18 goals and 39 assists to complement 345 penalty minutes. His value to the team was as a robust player whose thunderous hits energized his teammates and the home crowd.
"I knew my role and embracing that role led to my success" he says. "When I played for the Vipers, there was a distinct line between the top six forwards and the bottom six forwards. We had lots of scorers, guys like Hunter Bishop, Mike Santorelli, Dean Strong, and Erik Felde, so guys like me didn't need to score much. I took pride in my role and I had a knack for hitting. I took as much or more joy from a big hit than a goal."
At the prestigious Ivy League school, Brown University, Aaron continued as a third line player who provided energy, solid defence, and premier penalty killing. But then in his fourth year, he became the team's top goal scorer with 17 goals.
It didn't happen overnight. Aaron says that "after my third year, one of my assistant coaches told me that I could play pro if I worked on certain parts of my game. So that summer I stayed in Rhode Island and worked on my game 12 hours a day. It paid off; my final college season started off well and it just snowballed. I gained more and more confidence and the puck kept going in the net for me." Despite a heavy class load in his pre-med studies, Aaron maintained his fitness regimen and his skill development during that season.
Aaron's development as a well-rounded player led to an offer by the Vancouver Canucks. He spent a year with the Canucks' AHL farm team, the Manitoba Moose before earning a spot on the Vancouver roster for the 2010-11 season. Part way through the 2012-13 season, he was claimed off waivers by the Washington Capitals.
Aaron summarizes his hockey journey this way – "At each stage of my career I worked hard and became good enough to make it to the next level, but it really started in Vernon with its winning culture. In that kind of atmosphere you learn what's expected of you to contribute to that winning culture. Accountability was high, just like the culture at Brown and in the pro ranks. Those values are very important and I've carried those values with me."
Aaron's message to potential Viper players reflects his experience:
The culture and atmosphere in Vernon is one of a kind. You're going to learn life lessons as well as hockey lessons in that atmosphere, lessons that will be valuable your whole life. Also keep in mind that when you're part of a winning tradition you get more eyes on you, which increases your chances of getting a scholarship."