PENGUINS SPOTLIGHT - VIM, VIGOR, VITALE
VIM, VIGOR, VITALE – By Scott Stuccio
Cam Janssen is a crash-the-net, mix-it-up, grinding player who was known as an enforcer on the ice. He spent 207 games in the NHL and amassed 546 penalty minutes to date. At age 26, he still has a long way to go in his pro career.
Paul Ranheim turned pro during the 1988-89 season and went on to a very prominent NHL career. He appeared in 1,013 games with Calgary, Hartford, Philadelphia, Carolina, and Phoenix before retiring in 2003. He ended up with 360 points (161G, 199A) in that time frame, and completed his NHL days just as successfully as he did with the University of Wisconsin Badgers in the late 1980s.
And probably even more notable than the two names above, Pat LaFontaine, a 1983 draft selection of the New York Islanders, put together a career that included as many points as Ranheim had played games. LaFontaine’s playing days were spent with the Islanders, Buffalo Sabres, and New York Rangers. His accomplishments led him to an induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2003.
What do all of these players have in common?
They were all born in the state of Missouri, in the city of St. Louis. And one Wilkes-Barre/Scranton forward might just join the ranks of some of these famous names if he keeps up the play that has made him such a fan favorite in northeastern Pennsylvania.
Joe Vitale has already long since proven that success will come through hard work and dedication. He was selected in the seventh round of the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, at the beginning of a very successful four-year college stay at Northeastern University. His 32 points (6G, 26A) that he recorded in 74 games last season placed him second among rookies in scoring. Vitale came to fit the exact penalty-killing mold that last year’s assistant coach John Hynes wanted. He needed someone with speed, who was good on faceoffs, had an active stick, and could play a physical game. Vitale accomplished all of those skills, and slipped into the role quite easily.
“I’ve always been a penalty kill guy through college, and I think that’s one of the big reasons why Pittsburgh brought me on board,” Vitale said. “I think that was something they wanted to see out of me. With that said, I came to the league being that penalty kill guy but my fundamentals and details were not very sound at all. Coach Hynes spent time refining my details out there and it’s amazing how those little things help you out in the long run. It’s been great to have been coached in that aspect and to be able to improve in that area of the game.”
Up to the Penguins’ opening contest in Rochester this weekend, Vitale and “that area of the game” has been a nearly unbeatable force. Not only has the team risen to the top of the AHL in penalty killing, but they have been creating offense when playing a man down. Vitale is a huge reason for that, having scored twice shorthanded this season – both goals coming against the Penguins’ former all-star goaltender Dany Sabourin. He had four shorthanded points last season, all assists, a number which tied for the league lead among rookies.
“I think more so this year than any year, I’ve noticed that the four guys out there have been working as a unit. In years past we had breakdowns and once they occur, things open up on the power play for the opposing team. But this year, everybody is reacting off of the moves of the players next to them.”
Vitale’s college teammate at Northeastern, Brad Thiessen, and the Penguins’ all-time leader in wins, John Curry, has also gotten high marks from the Penguins’ center. “They’ve kept us in a lot of games this season. There were times when you looked at the scoreboard and you see zero-zero or one-one late in the game. They gave us a chance to get that next goal. They’ve been the catalyst for our start so far.”
Not only has Vitale’s professional career flourished over the last calendar year, so has his personal life. He married his fiancée Brianna this past July, and the support of his wonderfully kind family has kept him pressing toward his dream of getting that first NHL call.
“Married life is great. Everyone’s also doing really great back at home in St. Louis, and they’re coming up in December,” Vitale said.
At the rate Vitale has begun this season, he may have to have his family come to Pittsburgh to visit. But as long as he is here, you can bet that the Penguins’ depth chart is as strong as it ever has been.