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Joe DiPenta's Blog: Finding time to celebrate the holidays

Joe DiPenta is with the Portland Pirates of the AHL this season after spending last season in the Swedish Elite League. (Photo by Heather Harvey)

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Joe DiPenta is with the Portland Pirates of the AHL this season after spending last season in the Swedish Elite League. (Photo by Heather Harvey)

Our team holiday party this year was the best one I’ve ever been a part of – but maybe that’s because I didn’t have to wear one of the unsightly sweaters.

What made our celebration so cool was the unique setting in which it was held. Portland, being a maritime city, is dotted with a number of small islands just off the coast. Our team gathered at a ferry terminal, not totally sure what we were in for, then took a 15-minute ride to one of these islands. Once there, we packed into the banquet room of a hotel and proceeded to have a terrific seafood meal.

Holiday parties are fun because they represent one of the rare times during the season that you really have a chance to see different sides of your teammates. For instance, I had no idea my fellow defenseman Dennis Persson, a Swede taken 24th overall by Buffalo in 2006, was also a wicked guitar player. He made sure to strum some songs everybody knew, which of course created a perfect sing-along opportunity.

We also decided to rib the rookies a bit, because while everybody else was dressed in holiday-casual wear, the freshmen had to be decked out in the finest (meaning ugliest) Christmas sweaters Portland’s second-hand stores had to offer.

Another unique element to the party is that you get to know the families of guys you play with, plus some of the staff who work for the organization that you don’t otherwise have much of a chance to chat with thanks to the blur of practices, packing bags and travelling on bus trips.

As for a break from hockey, I considered us fortunate to get four days away from the rink. That’s certainly not been the case in years past, so I capitalized by making the roughly seven-hour drive down to Philadelphia to spend time with my wife’s family.

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As a pro athlete, you can’t completely let yourself go during the hiatus, but a holiday break is a nice opportunity for everybody to indulge – at least a bit – in the spirit of the season.

I was back in action on Christmas Day, as we had a practice in anticipation of our game the next day versus Manchester. I actually can’t remember a Christmas Day since I turned pro where I wasn’t traveling or practicing, but that’s just life as a hockey player.

We host Worcester on New Year’s Eve and because it’s an early 5:30 start, we’ll have a chance to ring in 2010 with some fun. My teammate Brad Larsen and his wife have a new baby, so I think a bunch of us veteran players may gather at his place, order in some great food and unwind a bit.

The younger guys might be more tempted to hit the town on the big night; I’m guessing they’ll leave the ugly sweaters at home.

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.

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