After a bit of a slow start to his college career, University of Massachusetts Lowell’s Joseph Pendenza has lit the lamp his past two seasons in Hockey East, becoming one of the premier two-way forwards in college hockey.
Pendenza only tallied 13 points during his freshman campaign, but over the last two seasons his point total has seen a consistent rise.
As a sophomore he saw a spike in his production, which really started in November of 2011 when he and his linemates started to perform as a unit. Playing with Matt Ferreira and Terrance Wallin, Pendenza and his linemates became a force at both ends of the ice for the River Hawks.
“The team as a whole played a lot better last season,” Pendenza said. “I [developed] a lot of chemistry with the guys I was playing with starting around November until the end of the season. We clicked from that point on, and we all had very good offensive years.”
After playing his first two seasons on the wing, Pendenza has transitioned back to his natural center position with a lot of success. Through his first 27 games this season the UMass Lowell pivot is close to a point-per-game player (24 points).
“Pendenza continues to work on the little things, and he is continuing to improve in some of the small facets of the game,” UMass Lowell coach Norm Bazin said. “Joe will need to improve some parts of his offensive game if he is going to keep taking steps in his game, but once he fills out a little bit more he is going to be even more effective.”
Pendenza is a fixture on the River Hawks penalty kill, but he hasn’t always played a defensive style of game. The 6-foot center played more of an offensive game for most of his childhood until he started concentrating on becoming a two-way force later on.
“Growing up, a few of my coaches had pointed out to me that my game was more offensive minded, so it was really stressed to me that I needed to work on being a two-way player,” Pendenza said. “With that mindset I have developed my two-way game because I know you don’t need a goal or an assist to have a good game. Helping the team on the defensive side can help us get a win, so my two-way game is something I take a lot of pride in.”
But it goes beyond his defensive play on the penalty kill because he is a player who can be put into any situation. Pendenza noted that he wants coach Bazin to be able to look down the bench in any situation and know he’s the man for the job.
“He is a big part of our special teams when we go down a man or get the man advantage,” Bazin said. “He is an important part of our power play, not only of his offensive abilities, but also his ability in recovery situations. When we do lose the puck on the power play he is very quick at getting the puck back up to the offensive zone, which gives us more time to set up the next play.”
Although Pendenza is having great success now it hasn’t been an easy road to get to where he is today. The road to college, especially during junior hockey where you are fighting with teammates to not only be drafted but also to get a scholarship to a Division 1 school, can be trying. Pendenza was not drafted, but obviously was able to get a scholarship to a school in Hockey East.
“During juniors I had a few times where I seriously doubted if I was good enough to play at the next level,” Pendenza said. “Some guys I played with got college offers and committed to schools before I did, so that could take a shot at your confidence when you feel you should be getting some of those looks too. It is something you just have to work through, and by doing that I was able to earn a scholarship of my own with UMass Lowell.”
It is important to be a good teammate to your teammates, but Pendenza realized he couldn’t worry about how he compared to other players as he focused on his own performance.
“You can’t really read too much into who is or who isn’t being recruited because you have to worry about yourself,” Pendenza said. “I learned by worrying about myself in that kind of situation I was able to make my linemates better because my play was better. By doing that I was also more accountable to my own play.”
Pendenza may be an undrafted player, but don’t be surprised when he is invited to an NHL development camp, or when teams are lining up to sign the pivot after his college career comes to a close.
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