THUNDER BAY – The last time hockey fans saw Daniel Del Paggio playing hockey in his hometown, he was setting the Superior International Junior Hockey League on fire.
After one dynamic, award-winning season with the Thunder Bay North Stars, Del Paggio headed east to seek his fame and fortune in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
Now 20, Del Paggio posted back-to-back 50-point seasons with the Saint John Sea Dogs and Gatineau Olympiques to close out his junior career, and decided the time was right to head back home, where this fall he’ll lace up his skates with the Lakehead Thunderwolves.
It was a no-doubter, he said.
“Friends and family are something that’s really important to me and I knew the Thunderwolves were going to have a great young team and I thought it would be a great opportunity for me to grow in this organization and hopefully win a championship a couple years down the road – maybe even this year,” Del Paggio said after practice on Wednesday night.
Given the number of holes to fill up front and his major junior pedigree, Del Paggio might find himself playing a more important role than the typical freshman does off the hop at Lakehead, as the team tries to replace its top three scorers from a year ago.
It’s a role the youngster would relish, aiming for consistency in his game.
“I came from playing in a pretty good league, in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, so I have some experience playing against some pretty good players,” Del Paggio said.
“Hopefully I can contribute offensively, but honestly, as clichéd as it may seem, just work hard every day and get better every day and be a consistent forward for my team.”
When he left the North Stars he departed as the reigning player of the year, his 105 points placing him second in the SIJHL scoring race behind Fort Frances forward Lucas Debenedet’s 112.
Despite his ability with the puck, Del Paggio said his game needed a lot of nurturing at the next level.
He’s returning a different player.
“Back then I was a pretty one-dimensional player, I guess. I was just worried about scoring points and helping my team that way. Playing in the QMJHL for three years, I kind of learned to adapt my role into more of a defensive player,” he said.
“I was put in the position of shutting down some pretty good top lines on other teams. So I’m not just a scorer, I bring some defence, I’m good on draws and a good all-round centreman for my team.”
Del Paggio has spent training camp consistently playing alongside Billy Jenkins and newcomer Josh Laframbois, on what will likely be the team’s top line to start the season.