Mike Cazzola swapping the limelight for role of unsung hero at Fife Flyers
The role of unsung hero is not one Mike Cazzola has been used to.
Top points scorer at both his previous clubs, Edinburgh Capitals and Fort Wayne Comets, and consistently throughout his college career, the 28-year-old is more accustomed to the limelight.
However, the Canadian centreman has taken on a different role at Fife Flyers, one where his work often goes unnoticed while others grab the headlines.
“Work-horse,”, “underrated”, “heartbeat” are all phrases used by head coach, Todd Dutiaume, to describe a player whose small stature masks a big contribution.
While Cazzola’s 43 points in 57 games rank him fifth in team scoring, it is the less glamorous side - creating turnovers, winning face-offs and killing penalties - where he has really excelled in Fife.
“In the past I’ve been looked at as having offensive abilities, but I’ve always been the player that goes out and kills penalties,” he said.
“I like to be relied upon in that sense, and in the last minute of the game going out to take the face-off at the end.
“You’re competitive and you want to be out there in those situations. I want to play as much as I can, and it’s nice for them to depend on me.
“I’ve just got to keep maintaining it and doing the right things.”
Cazzola, at 5ft 7in, is currently centering a line with comparable giants in Brett Bulmer and Danick Gauthier, and he is relishing the chance to play with two of the team’s biggest forwards.
“It’s fun,” he said. “They’re fast and work hard, so all I try to do is turn the puck over as quick as possible, just give it to them and go to the net.
“They know how to create space and finish their checks, so it gives me a bit of space when I get the puck to make some plays.
“Our line is doing well but we didn’t have a lot of success at the weekend, although I thought we had a lot of scoring chances we didn’t capitalise on.
“We’ll do some work this week and focus on putting pucks on the net and I think good things will happen.”
Cazzola also showed his tough side on Saturday in quickly recovering from a head-first collision into the boards following a check from behind from Guildford Flames defenceman Corbin Baldwin.
The hit was assessed a 2+10 penalty by the match night officials, but was not deemed worthy of supplementary discipline by the EIHL Department of Player Safety.
“I thought it was a bad hit from behind,” Cazzola said.
“I already told Goat, but I appreciated him sticking up for me like he did.
“We’ve had a couple of bad hits like that, and Schaber is out right now after a hit from behind.
“You don’t like to see it but it happens in hockey. I was fortunate not to get injured.
“The league looked at it and there was no suspension so there’s not much we can really do about it.
“When you look at the previous hit on me that the Coventry player got a one game suspension for, I thought this hit was worse than that, but at least no-one got hurt.
“It didn’t feel the greatest at the time, but once I got back to the bench and caught my wind I was fine after that.”
Flyers complete the regular league season with a three-game weekend featuring an away match in Belfast on Friday before a double-header against Glasgow Clan.
While a play-off place is already secured, who Fife face in their quarter-final will depend on their final league position, which could yet be anywhere from fourth to eighth.
“It’s just a matter of trying to get into playing consistent hockey,” Cazzola said.
“We’ve struggled at times to put two solid games together this season but we’ve got three games this weekend to try and play three full, complete games and get into good habits for play-offs.
“I don’t think the guys have a preference over who we play, right now our goal is to try to finish as high in the standings as possible.”