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By Andy Hutchison



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By Andy Hutchison

BRIDGEPORT — Pete Zingoni grew up in Newtown and went to see the now-defunct New Haven Nighthawks and, later, the Hartford Wolf Pack of the American Hockey League. He loved hockey and hoped some day to be skating with one of the teams he used to watch at the old New Haven Coliseum or Hartford Civic Center, or even with one of the AHL’s parent National Hockey League teams.

Zingoni didn’t just dream about putting on the pads with the pros — he worked toward that goal until he fulfilled it.

In the 2003-04 season, Zingoni realized his dream when he laced up the skates as a member of the AHL’s Syracuse Crunch (the Newtown product was drafted by Syracuse’s NHL affiliate, the Columbus Blue Jackets, in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft).

After playing in Europe for a season and battling an injury for a season in which he played in the East Coast Hockey League, Zingoni is back in the AHL and playing some of the best hockey of his career. The 26-year-old is in his second season with the AHL’s Philadelphia Phantoms, the farm team of the Philadelphia Flyers. He played 62 games last season and led the Phantoms with 18 goals. This year, in just 46 games, Zingoni already has 16 goals (he leads the team again) and nine assists, helping the Phantoms to first place in the East Division with a record of 29-25-1-2 (wins, losses, overtime losses, and shootout losses).

The second shootout loss came this past Saturday when Zingoni and his teammates visited his birth city, Bridgeport. The host Sound Tigers rallied to win 4-3 in a shootout, but it was nice to be “home” for Zingoni, who had easily a couple of hundred fans in the stands. His family members and friends go to see him play when they can.

“We come all the time. We follow him where ever he goes,” said Zingoni’s aunt, Kathleen Papp of Newtown. “We’re his biggest fans.”

The fans included his mom, Pat, and dad, Ron, along with aunts, uncles, cousins, his grandfather, and members of the Notre Dame-Fairfield hockey program. He played his high school hockey at Division I powerhouse Notre Dame-Fairfield.

“It’s great. I had a huge crowd here tonight,” Zingoni said.

The 5-foot-10, 190-pound forward assisted the Phantoms’ first goal and got some playing time on the power play and penalty kill, in addition to his regular shift.

After the game he was welcomed by dozens of his family members and some new, younger fans who were lucky enough to have Zingoni autograph their pucks and ticket stubs.

“It’s a thrill. We hoped, but you never thought ‘it’s going to happen.’ What he’s accomplished is pretty incredible,” the Phantom player’s father said.

“He’s the son I never had,” said his grandfather, Tom Duffy, who had seven daughters. Duffy taught his grandson to skate at age 4 and has followed his play ever since. “If I don’t watch him live I follow him on the b2 network,” he said of the Internet network available for fans to can pay to watch AHL games.

A bulk of the players in the NHL come up through the AHL and Zingoni recognizes that he is fortunate to have the opportunity to play at such a high level.

“It’s a great experience. It’s always been my goal to get up to these top levels,” he said.

Zingoni has yet to be called up to play in the NHL. Zingoni had reason to find it particularly disheartening a year ago when he led the Phantoms in goals scored but never made it across the parking lot where the Flyers play in a rink of their own.

“It gets frustrating seeing other guys get called up,” Zingoni said. “I don’t like to think about that too much because once you get frustrated it effects your game a little.”

So Zingoni just keeps working hard, spending more time trying to improve his overall play on the ice in hopes of getting taking that next step.

Zingoni may not be one of the biggest players on the ice, but he doesn’t shy away from contact and his aggressiveness and ability put him near or at the top of a couple of team scoring categories. Zingoni not only leads his team in goals scored, but the forward is tied among team leaders with three game-winning goals.

Zingoni played his college hockey at Providence College. He skated for a season in Europe due to the NHL lockout in 2004-05; he played in Germany and Finland.

In the summer months, Zingoni hangs up the hockey gear but works out with his college strength coach and endures off-ice training to keep in shape. He has a home just outside Newport, R.I. “It’s beautiful up there in the summer,” Zingoni said.

He also spends some of his time in Newtown and runs a summer hockey camp, the “Competitive Edge Hockey School” at at Milford Ice Pavilion. “It’s a lot of fun for me,” Zingoni said.

Zingoni and the Phantoms have 33 games remaining before embarking on the playoffs and a possible run at the AHL’s Calder Cup.

The Phantoms will visit Bridgeport two more times (March 15 at 7 pm and April 4 at 7:30 pm).

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