Interview with Thrashers Prospect Joe DiPenta

By Matt Gunning

Joe DiPenta was originally selected in the third round of the 1998 NHL entry draft by Florida. Florida was unable to come to terms with DiPenta and he reentered the draft but was unselected in 2000. Philadelphia signed him as a free agent. He was traded to Atlanta for minor league journeyman Jarrold Skalde last season. Assigned to Chicago Wolves (AHL), DiPenta finished the season strong. He was a top four defenseman for the club during their run to the Calder Cup last spring.

With the assistance of the Atlanta Thrashers, Hockey’s Future had the opportunity to ask Joe a few questions during the Thrashers Prospect Camp held this month.

HF: How would you describe your style of game to someone who has never seen you play in person?

JD: I’m a physical defenseman. I’m difficult to play against in my own end. I take the body and I make the first pass and allow our forwards to advance down the ice as fast as possible and allow our team to get some offense going. I play tight defensively. That’s about it.

HF: Heading into this last season did you have any personal or team goals?

JD: I wanted to establish myself more as staying physical and being able to handle myself in a fight. I did some training last year with some karate in the off season and I still do it now. It really helped me feel more comfortable on the ice, when I get into the odd scrap. I accomplished that last season, fighting a few more times and doing alright.

HF: How does karate help you on the ice?

JD: A lot of it is body control. When you spar in karate class it helps you know your distance, just like boxing would. It teaches you how to move with whoever your opponent is on the ice–you react from his movement. A lot of karate is reaction, knowing where your body is at all times, having full control of your body. In a [karate] fight we practice a lot of defense–how to neutralize your opponents’ strengths.

HF: Do you have any pre-game superstitions?

JD: In Chicago we had a group of guys who always went to the Olive Garden before every game. We all had the same meal, during the playoffs we all ate the same thing. I always had Chicken Parm before every game. I know they call Ray Ferraro “Chicken Parm”. All the boys that eat there had pretty much the same thing, Chicken Parm. Maybe it’s an Atlanta thing (laughs).

When I’m at the rink I get dressed a certain way and I prepare for a game in a certain way. I tape my stick before I stretch, and then I stretch. I put my gear on the same way, even for practice—I put my left skate on first then my right, then my left shinpad, right shinpad…just things like that.

HF: Who has been most influential person in assisting you during your hockey career? Parents, coaches, teammates

JD: My dad, I know everybody says their dad and their parents. My parents especially made a lot of sacrifices, financially and time wise. More than I will probably ever know.

If I had to pick someone other than my parents, I would pick a man named Phil Hirt. Ever since I first started playing hockey, he was always my coach. He was my coach for my first six years of hockey. I was always a shy kid, and he made me “unshy” [laughs], he always pushed at all the right times to get back on the ice. He was a really good role model for me. At that age he was kind of like my second father, I would say. If I was down he got me up he knew how to bring me back up and keep me level headed. He really cared about the kids he coached and I owe a lot to him– a lot of other players in that area do. He would be second to my parents.