Interview with Penguins prospect Joe Vitale
Joe Vitale – C – Northeastern University – St. Louis, MO – 5’11 – 205 lbs – Shoots R
2005/06 Northeastern Stats: 31GP – 8G – 8A – 16Pts – 71PIM
2006/07 Northeastern Stats: 35GP – 7G – 9A – 16Pts – 54PIM
2007/08 Northeastern Stats: 37GP – 12G – 23A – 35Pts – 75PIM
2008/09 Northeastern Stats: 4GP – 2G – 1A – 3Pts – 2PIM
Jesse Marshall: Let’s start by talking about Northeastern University for a bit. Last year it seemed like it came together for you a little bit, you were New England’s Most Improved Player of the Year and the team MVP. Looking back, what was the big difference for you from your sophomore year to your junior year?
Joe Vitale: I think I left my sophomore year a little disappointed in my performance pretty much the whole year. That summer, going into my junior year, I worked extra hard; I read a lot more books and really worked on the mental side of the game a little more. I came in as prepared as ever my junior year and was very fortunate to play with two freshmen at the time, Wade MacLeod and Tyler McNeely, and those guys are just play makers all around. They’re the type of guys that make you play better, and I stayed with them from the start till about mid-February, that was when we had the most success. I have to give those guys most of the credit because they made me the player that I was that year.
JM: When you got it going last year, did the mental side of the game came a little bit easier for you? Did you feel like you were gripping the stick a little less tight?
JV: Yeah, absolutely. Anytime you’re playing with that swagger and that poise, you’re getting a point a night, a point here, two points there, and you definitely start carrying a little more confidence in your game. I started approaching the game with fewer nerves and a lot more confidence in my abilities and the players around me. It definitely starts with the mind; the hands start loosening up a little bit and your mind starts working with more ease. It kinda just snowballs from there.
JM: Right now you guys are 4-0-1 and 2-0 in the Hockey East. How do you feel about this year’s squad?
JV: People ask me that all the time and I tell them that it’s too early to tell right now. We know what we are; I’m not 100% sure about our opponents that we haven’t faced yet. I can only speak for our team and we’re very excited about this year. We’re taking it one game at a time. We only have a couple of freshmen so we have a good core of guys that are coming back from last year and a good senior class. Everyone works hard every day. It’s a very good group; we’re very, very close. There are no cliques within the team. We’ve got a good mix of skill and hard nosed guys, blue-collar guys. So, it’s a good mix, everyone’s very excited, but we’re just taking it one game at a time right now.
JM: Are you still playing with Wade MacLeod and Tyler McNeely?
JV: No, I’m playing with Wade MacLeod still, he’s a sophomore now, but at the moment I’m playing with another freshman, Alex Tuckerman. But this early in the season, the coach likes to mix and match, and it’s different here or there. We’re kinda playing week to week, but Wade and I played all year last year, and we’re starting off together this year again.
JM: What’s your major up there?
JV: I’m actually a journalism major.
JM: Noting the situation in Pittsburgh and the depth at center, have you spent any time at wing at Northeastern?
JV: I haven’t played wing at all. I was actually a defenseman all the way throughout high school, and then right before juniors they decided to move me up to forward. I think I’m responsible and I take defense really seriously because I was a defenseman throughout my whole amateur career. I haven’t played wing much, but I don’t think it’s too much of an adjustment if I need to play there down the road. I’m not too particular about where I play as long as I get a chance.
JM: On the subject of going to juniors before college, when you look back at playing for Sioux Falls of the USHL, do you feel like that experience prepared you better to be competitive at the collegiate level?
JV: Oh, absolutely. I think if you asked any kid that plays in the USHL and then makes the jump to college that question they’d say it’s much more of a jump to go from high school to college than it is high school to the USHL. The jump just isn’t that big. We have kids come in from Canada and other junior leagues, and the kids that played in the USHL really seem to adapt better than the other kids that played juniors elsewhere up in Canada. So, that definitely prepared me tremendously. I struggled to start out at Sioux Falls, but I had a great second half and it kind of carried over to my freshman year, so it prepared me well.
JM: Looking back after that year, did you have any expectation as far as the draft was concerned and where you would be taken? Was Pittsburgh one of the team’s that was on your radar? Had you met with them at all?
JV: I actually wasn’t expecting to get drafted at all. I hadn’t talked to any teams before the draft. It was definitely a surprise for me, I wasn’t really following it. I almost forgot. I knew it was that week but I had no idea it was that day. Coming in, I thought the chances of me getting drafted were very, very slim, so I didn’t bother too much with it. At the time I was up in Brainerd, Minnesota doing a lot of Minnesota hockey camps. One of the guys who runs that is Chuck Grillo, who was a Pittsburgh scout, I had been going to his camp up in Minnesota for the last three years. I had a good relationship with him, but nothing really too serious, he never really approached me and said, “We’re going to draft you.” So, I really had no idea what was happening that day. I was actually on my way into a dinner with my family. I set my phone on vibrate and it just kept going off and off. I let the first couple go but later I got worried because I thought that something was wrong at home or someone had died. I finally stepped out and saw someone was calling so I answered really quickly and it was one of my friend’s back home. He told me so I was very excited and everything, but I definitely wasn’t expecting it.
JM: Looking back, growing up in St. Louis, were you a big blues fan? Did you have any NHL idols?
JV: I was definitely a big Blues fan. But, I was very loyal to Jon Casey, I don’t know if you remember him, he played goalie for the Blues but before that he was the goalie for the North Stars and spent some time with Boston I think. When I was very little, we went up to Minnesota when the North Stars were there at the time. It was my little brother and I, and it was kinda right when I started playing hockey, we went to go see him, and we actually ended up meeting Jon Casey in the locker room afterward. There wasn’t a nicer guy playing at the time, and he welcomed us, we actually kept in contact. My dad and he are still good friends to this day. But I’ve never met a guy that genuine and everything, he was just a good person and kind of my role model. I know that sounds weird because I’m a center and he’s a goalie, but he’s definitely my favorite hockey player. So wherever he was I kinda followed.
JM: This being your senior season, has the Penguins organization been in contact with you at all as far as what the plans are after this?
JV: It’s very low key at the moment. I went to the prospect camp in June; I’ve gone there the last couple years. We’re having open term talks at the moment, nothing too serious yet, I think they wanted me to finish school. So, until I’m done with school I don’t think anything further is going to be happening. I keep in contact with Tom Fitzgerald, he’s the scout out here in New England, and he actually called me a couple of days ago. He’s been great to communicate with and he reiterates every time he calls me about what I need to do and how to maximize my potential, this and that. So, it’s definitely all positives, but nothing too serious at the moment. That’s to be expected, because I still have to finish my collegiate career out here.
JM: There are a lot of people in Pittsburgh that haven’t had a chance to see Northeastern play. So, how would you describe yourself as a player?
JV: I think people, whether it be the people in the Pittsburgh organization or any of the coaches I’ve played for, they would tell you that I’m a pretty hard-nosed guy, a pretty blue-collar player. I play end to end pretty well. I take a lot of time in the defensive zone. I definitely need a little more work on the skill aspect of the game. I put up some good numbers last year, which is great, but I think I have lot of work to do as far as my hands go, my vision around the net, and just my poise and patience around the net. But yeah, hard-nosed and a blue-collar kind of guy. I love finishing hits. I love working hard and I try to never take a shift off. I just kinda grind teams down and try to be that player that other teams hate to play against.
JM: Since you switched from defense to center when you were drafted, how has your work in the circles been for face-offs? Is there still an adjustment occurring there?
JV: We take a lot of pride in our face-offs. It’s been good. I communicate really well with defensemen. It’s been good because I kinda have that vision from when I was younger of what defensemen go through, so I can help them in certain areas that a person who had never played defense at all in their lives wouldn’t understand, like what defensemen go through as far as face-offs are concerned, going back to get pucks, the stress of the game in different areas. It’s definitely helped me along the way to understand the two positions, I can look back and help out the defensemen and see if they’re open or not.
JM: Now it’s time for the easy stuff. What’s your favorite movie?
JV: The Pirates of the Caribbean.
JM: What’s your biggest game day superstition.
JV: I have to be careful what I say here, I don’t wanna give away the big ones, that’s why they’re a superstition, because you can’t tell anybody. I’ll go with that I always eat a banana before every game.
JM: That was my next question. Any game day meals? Anything you eat in addition to the banana?
JV: I definitely get my banana in, and then I always try to have scrambled eggs in the morning. Other than that, I definitely try to always have cereal. Whether it is a couple bowls in the morning, a bowl for lunch, a few bowls as a snack, I definitely try to keep it with the banana and the cereal consistently throughout the day.
JM: Favorite band?
JV: I like the oldies. I’ve always been a big fan of the Beatles.
Thanks to Joe for a great interview, we wish him the best of luck in his senior season at Northeastern!