GRAND FORKS -- Shane Pinto scored a goal in North Dakota's preseason exhibition game. Then, he opened the official portion of his college career on a five-game point streak.
The freshman center from Franklin Square, N.Y., never really slowed down from there.
Pinto finished the season with a team-high 16 goals, 28 points and was named the National Collegiate Hockey Conference's rookie of the year Wednesday, March 25.
He is the second UND player to earn that honor in the seven-year history of the league. The other was Brock Boeser, who won it in 2015-16 before leading the Fighting Hawks to an NCAA national championship. Boeser now plays for the Vancouver Canucks.
Among the players Pinto beat out to win the award were Denver forward Bobby Brink, Western Michigan defenseman Ronnie Attard and Denver goalie Magnus Chrona.
"I think it's a great accolade to win," UND coach Brad Berry said. "Brock Boeser won it as a special player and now Shane Pinto won it as a special player as well. I'm really excited about his next year and what he can do."
Pinto came to UND after a terrific season in the United States Hockey League and after being picked No. 32 overall by the Ottawa Senators in the 2019 NHL Draft. But even so, Berry probably couldn't have predicted just how much UND would lean on Pinto in so many different key situations.
"I think if you would have asked him and me at the beginning of the season, it's one of those things where you probably wouldn't have expected as much ice time or the success he had right from the start," Berry said. "Like anyone else, you have to prove it every day and earn it every day on and off the ice. He did that. His ice time went up through his body of work and he was a high-end, influential player in the second half of the season."
Pinto quickly established himself as UND's second-line center. Senior Westin Michaud played on his left wing most of the season and the right winger often alternated between Judd Caulfield and Jasper Weatherby.
Pinto's outstanding play at center allowed the coaching staff to move Michaud to left wing during the first month. Pinto and Michaud clicked, tying for the team lead with 16 goals.
Pinto had 21 points at even strength, ranking third on the team behind Hobey Baker Award finalist Jordan Kawaguchi and junior Collin Adams.
Penalty kill role
Pinto wasn't used as a traditional penalty killer, but he was so good at faceoffs that the coaching staff would start him on the penalty kill to win the initial draw. Once he did that and UND cleared the zone, he would come straight to the bench.
Pinto finished the season winning 61.1 percent of his faceoffs, which ranks second all-time at UND since it began keeping the stat in 2003-04. Rhett Gardner, who won 62.3 percent of his draws in 2018-19, is the only player with a better mark on record.
Pinto sits ahead an impressive list of players in faceoff percentage: Tyson Jost (60.1), Corban Knight (59.9), Nick Jones (59.3), Zach Parise (59.1), Brandon Bochenski (58.9), Knight (58.7) and T.J. Oshie (58.6) rank behind him.
"He took a lot of pride in his faceoffs," Berry said. "When he came here, he was good in the dots. He became excellent working with Jason Ulmer every day. Every key faceoff, whether it was in the defensive end five-on-five or on the penalty kill, we had him or Jasper Weatherby take it. He increased his role as the year went on because he invested in his game every day."
Power play spot
UND's power play, which finished dead last in the NCHC in 2018-19, got a spark from Pinto and jumped to fourth in the league at 21.2 percent.
The Fighting Hawks used Pinto like the Washington Capitals use Alexander Ovechkin as a right-handed shot in the left circle, waiting to one-time passes from Kawaguchi, who ran the power play.
Pinto led the team with five power-play goals.
"One of the things we do is watch them, wherever they're playing, before they come in," Berry said. "We watch where they have success on the power play or penalty kill and fit that into a role here. In Kearney (Neb.), he was the middle man playing the bumper. He scored a lot of goals on finding loose pucks there or high-tip plays. We started him there, but then we put him on the weak-side flank. Him and Jordan Kawaguchi and Matt Kiersted had a lot of chemistry and success. Whatever role you give him on the power play, he has that high-end skill and ability to adapt. We found him very beneficial on that flank."
World Junior success
In addition to his success at UND, Pinto also was recognized for his play on the world stage in the World Junior Championship.
He led the U.S. in goals (four) and finished second in points (seven) in five games at the under-20 event.
Upon returning to UND, Pinto had points in 10 of his first 11 games.
"He went to the World Juniors, and like we so often see when we have players go play for the U.S. or Canadian team, we often times get a better player back. I think we did in both cases this year with Shane Pinto and Jacob Bernard-Docker. Both of their games increased exponentially."
Shane Pinto's second of the game is the power play equalizer, with minutes to go in the third! pic.twitter.com/tt7SrflqOY— TSN (@TSN_Sports) December 26, 2019
UND league rookie of the year winners
2019-20 -- Shane Pinto (NCHC)
2015-16 -- Brock Boeser (NCHC)
2009-10 -- Danny Kristo (WCHA)
2003-04 -- Brady Murray (WCHA)
2001-02 -- Brandon Bochenski (WCHA)
1997-98 -- Karl Goehring (WCHA)
1993-94 -- Landon Wilson (WCHA)
1981-82 -- James Patrick (WCHA freshman of year)
1978-79 -- Kevin Maxwell (WCHA freshman of year)
1971-72 -- Alan Hangsleben (WCHA freshman of year)
1966-67 -- Bob Munro (WCHA sophomore of year)*
*Freshmen were not eligible to play
NCHC rookie of the year winners
2019-20 -- Shane Pinto, North Dakota
2018-19 -- Taylor Ward, Omaha
2017-18 -- Scott Perunovich, Minnesota Duluth
2016-17 -- Henrik Borgstrom, Denver
2015-16 -- Brock Boeser, North Dakota
2014-15 -- Danton Heinen, Denver
2013-14 -- Jaccob Slavin, Colorado College