Zach Aston-Reese is a good kid. He is soaking up every moment of this experience both as if he belongs but as if it may never happen again. He’s humble, thoughtful and doesn’t yet treat the media like the parasites we are. When asked a question he answers it as honestly and thoroughly as possible.
Friday after the morning skate, PHN chatted with Aston-Reese, one on one. As the national reporters from the U.S. and Canada descend on the locker room, such time is precious. At least until this reporter bricks a question and we both start laughing at me.
Aston-Reese has a good handle on this series. He seems like he is itching for the physical play to begin and if the Flyers don’t, he may be the one to bring it.
“After being defeated like that, there’s going to be a big response,” he said. “Their intensity level is going to go up. We’ll have to control what we can control and match that. And, a big part of that is being physical.”
So, could the first 10 minutes be a little crazy? “Yeah, exactly,” replied Aston-Reese.
On the ice, Aston-Reese has earned his playing time. He has become one of Pittsburgh Hockey Now’s go-to locker room quotes for all of those reasons. And, he’s become one of the Penguins go-to penalty killers because he is the type of player to embrace any role given to him. He played 13 minutes in Game 1, and nearly two full minutes short-handed.
“I am (embracing it). It’s good ice. You’re in a mindset where you want to outwork the five guys,” said Aston Reese. “It’s for pride. And when you have shifts like that when you’re aggressive and moving your feet, it helps you five on five.”
Did I also mention, the kid gets it? He may not have the swiftest skates or the most talent, but the Penguins have found a worker, who is still figuring out the NHL game. It was here when I bricked my last question, to our amusement.
In my head, I wanted to ask about the Flyers defense and how, in an attempt at offense (and being soft), they left the dirty areas open in Game 1. And, for that matter, they left the dirty areas open for most of the season series against the Penguins, too. But the question came out goofy, and all wrong.
I asked Aston-Reese how he “found his path to the net. They seemed to give you space behind them.” Not even a rookie would touch that one. So, we both acknowledged that fact, then the kid bailed me out.
He instead gave an honest assessment of his game in the offensive zone.
“I think offensively, (I have to be) more patient. More poise. Then again, you don’t want to change anything up too much,” he smiled. “I thought what we did in Game 1 worked pretty well for us.”
Yes, it did. Certainly better than my final question.
Penguins forward Carter Rowney skated Friday morning, which is an indication he could return before the Round 1 series is over. That’s no matter to Aston-Reese who was excited before Game 1.
“It was exciting. I couldn’t even take a nap. It wasn’t nervous energy, it was more like jittery. As the game went on, I adjusted more and more,” he said.
The young man may also take over Ian Cole’s role as the best beard in the locker room. After just a few days, it appears Aston-Reese may hit Cole level and ascend to ZZ-Top by the end of Round 2. He’s already helped the penalty kill and the Penguins may be tempted to allow Rowney more time to heal if Aston-Reese can bring the physical game to the Flyers.