Joe DiPenta signed a one-year deal with the Buffalo Sabres on July 11, but he's currently skating with Portland of the AHL. (Photo by Joe DiPenta signed a one-year deal with the Buffalo Sabres on July 11, but he's currently skating with Portland of the AHL. (Photo by Heather Harvey)
It’s been four years since I played in the American League and one thing is for sure: I don’t remember the bus rides being as taxing back then as they are now. A few years in the NHL and a campaign in Europe will do that to you.
Even after just a few games in the early season with Portland, I’m feeling at home in the North American game and it’s been a refreshing experience thus far. I’m writing this at a time when re-energizing the body is all that’s on my mind. The team just returned home from a long trip away from Portland that saw us play five games in nine nights, including back-to-back games in Norfolk on Friday and Saturday before a Sunday game in Hershey.
Let’s just say that a portable DVD player is an amazing thing. If it weren’t for my Sopranos DVD collection and the occasional card game with the boys, I think I might have lost my sanity. I can’t pinpoint the exact amount of time I’ve spent on the bus, but it is somewhere in the neighborhood of 20-plus hours.
Regardless of the lengthy road trips, I’m feeling rejuvenated on this Portland team. My wife and I found a great house and the community is full of nice people. The best part, though, is the choices of restaurants. We found at least six places that serve some really good eats. It’s always a plus to find a quality restaurant or two in a new city. And I’m only 20 minutes away from the rink so that’s an added bonus as well.
As I mentioned, it’s been a while since I’ve played in the AHL. I’ve actually asked a number of other players for their opinions and many of them have agreed with me that it’s actually easier, or perhaps less stressful, to play in the NHL as it is the AHL.
The reasoning behind this is simple. In the AHL, you have a lot of young guys trying to break into the big league. This causes a whole bunch of errors that are easy to capitalize on. Even more importantly, players aren’t as familiar with their roles as they are in the NHL. By no means am I trying to say the NHL is easy to play in because, well, it’s not. All I’m saying is that the AHL is always adjusting and that translates to a lack of cohesiveness and continuity.
Part of the reason this year has been so enjoyable is that I’ve been able to play with some of these young kids. I commented in my previous blog (http://www.thehockeynews.com/articles/28007-Joe-DiPentas-Blog-Preparing-for-the-season.html) about how good the system is in Buffalo and it certainly holds true in Portland.
As one of the older guys on the team, I’ve tried to make myself available to the younger guys on the squad. Not that I’m their mentor or anything, but if they have a question, I’m certainly obliged to give them the best feedback possible.
One of the areas of hockey that doesn’t garner as much attention from the young guys are the little things like your diet, workouts, and even something as simple as showing up to the rink at a good time. The latter is something I had a problem with when I first stepped into the Philadelphia Phantoms organization in 2000.
John Stevens was the coach back then and after I was late for the third time, John tore a strip off me when I showed up to the rink. Needless to say, his point was loud and clear, and since that day, I’ve always made a point to show up to the rink early. It’s the little things that are very important at this level of pro hockey, which is something the kids can sometimes have a hard time coming to grips with.
I’ve continued to use the new workouts I mentioned in my previous blog and I’ve actually got a couple of the other guys on the team to jump on board with me. A good reason for this is the fact Portland has a strength and conditioning expert. I think only about half of the teams in the AHL actually employ someone with that job title. It’s a good thing because it definitely keeps me focused on my goal of improving my foot speed.
These days the game is just too fast to not work on your speed in all facets of the game. Whether it’s your shot release or your feet, you have to get moving or you start to feel like you’re behind the wheel of a coach bus, something I don’t want to even think about until we hit the road again.
Defenseman Joe DiPenta returns to the North America after spending 2008-09 with the Frolunda Indians of the Swedish Elite League. The 30-year-old, who won a Stanley Cup with the Anaheim Ducks in 2006-07, will blog throughout the season about his experiences on the Buffalo Sabres/Portland Pirates blueline. Read his other blogs HERE.