Joe Pendenza: That Love of the Game and Baking

Photo by: James Slemp for Inside the Rink

33-year-old Joe Pendenza credits his family, especially his uncle Vin, for his inspiration to play hockey. That inspiration led to his success on the ice for over 17 seasons, including nine as a professional. Born in Wilmington, Mass., on Thanksgiving Day in 1990, Joe grew up watching his uncle play in high school. Later, when Joe was old enough to play, his father, Robert, and Uncle Vin would coach his teams. Joe would play three seasons with the Boston Jr. Bruins, starting in the Junior B league for half of a season before moving up to the Junior A league for two and a half seasons. He played 140 games, scoring 73 goals, 90 assists, and 163 points. Joe wore the ‘C’ on his sweater for his last season with the Boston Jr. Bruins. Joe was given a scholarship to the University of Massachusetts Lowell, where he studied finance. As a member of the River Hawks, he played in 152 games, scoring 49 goals, 61 assists, and 110 points. His best season was his junior year, when he scored 38 points in 41 games. While at UMass Lowell, Joe was named to the NCAA (Hockey East) All-Academic Team in 2010, won the NCAA (Hockey East) Championship in 2012 and 2013, and was named to the NCAA (Hockey East) Second All-Star Team and D1 All-Stars in 2012. The 5’11”, 190 lb center was signed by the Milwaukee Admirals of the AHL in 2014 at the end of his final season with UMass Lowell. 

Photo by: James Slemp for Inside the Rink

As a professional, Joe would play for three AHL teams and four ECHL teams. He has played in 589 professional games, 334 in the ECHL. He has scored 154 goals, 212 assists, and 366 points. Joe was reassigned from the Admirals to the Florida Everblades in the 2019 season, where he has played since. As an Everblade, Joe has played in 272 games, scoring 97 goals, 143 assists, and 240 points. Joe has been in the top three in scoring for the Everblades in each season except his first, where he finished ninth. He was named an assistant captain at the start of the 2021 season and received the ‘C’ in January 2024. Joe has won two Kelly Cup Championships with the Florida Everblades and is hunting for a third-straight championship this season. I recently caught up with Joe Pendenza, and we discussed the recent series against the Adirondack Thunder and his career. 

Inside the Rink: This past series was a massive statement for the team. How did the team turn its play around against an excellent Adirondack Thunder team after coming off a tough five-game losing streak?

Pendenza: We’ve been up and down this year, so coming into this week, we wanted to be positive. We know we’re a good hockey team and want to keep powering through whatever adversity comes our way. So far, these past few games, that’s what we’ve done. We also simplified our game because sometimes we’ve been overcomplicating it. We played simple hockey against the Thunder, more north and south, and it’s been working.

ITR: Back in January, Head Coach Brad Ralph said on a Coach’s Corner that it wasn’t really about the x’s and o’s, but much of it was about the heart and drive. Do you feel that in the locker room and the bench in these two games versus the last five?

Pendenza: Yeah, the biggest thing in the last few games is that we’re starting to believe we’re a good hockey team. I think that belief fluctuated here and there, and we had a little self-doubt, but we’re beginning to believe. Mentally, that’s been our biggest issue, and we’re sticking together as a team right now.

ITR: Coach Ralph discussed the importance of home-ice advantage in the playoffs. You have six more games against the Jacksonville Icemen and eight against the South Carolina Stingrays, two teams you have struggled against this year, and both teams in front of the Everblades in the standings. How do you improve your performance against those teams?

Pendenza: They’re two outstanding hockey teams, and we’ve battled with them a lot over the years. They will play their game, but we must worry about ourselves. We must believe that we’re a good hockey team. The x’s and o’s will take care of themselves, but it’s just knowing we’re a good hockey team and sticking up for each other.

ITR: Coach Ralph named you captain two weeks ago because, as he stated, “Joe’s a quiet leader who prefers to let his game do the talking.” You are currently the Everblades’ points leader this season, and you’ve been in the top three in scoring over the past three seasons, so you are leading by example on the ice. How do you see your leadership off the ice and in the locker room?

Pendenza: My biggest thing off the ice is that I want everyone to feel comfortable here. We’ve built a family culture here over the past few years, and I want to ensure that continues. I want to ensure that if a guy comes in, whether he’s here for a weekend or the rest of the year, he feels a part of that family. We’ve had a brotherhood here for a long time, which I experienced when I arrived a few years ago, and that’s what I want to keep going. That’s my biggest thing off the ice. I want guys to succeed here, and I’ll do anything to help them, whether with their game or picking them up, because if everyone is feeling good about themselves and is improving, then we will have a good hockey team.

Photo by: Christina Slemp for Inside the Rink

ITR: This is the time of year when teams start to see significant changes in their lineups. How have you helped newcomers Luke Santerno, Evan Boucher, and Tyler Kobryn adjust to the team?

Pendenza: It’s making sure they get integrated. I know the coaches will take care of the x’s and o’s. I want them to be comfortable and not be nervous. At game time, I want them to go out and play, knowing that all the guys have their backs just like they’ll have ours. The quicker the guys feel comfortable and good about being here, the quicker their play will be. Santerno has been playing great these past few games. He’s been working hard, and I told him to keep working. I want guys to succeed in playing their style of game.

ITR: Many people see winning a championship as the pinnacle of a career, and you’ve won two in a row. How do you stay motivated to play an entire season after achieving that?

Pendenza: An entire season is definitely a grind. There are a lot of ups and downs, travel, and everything else. At the end of the day, I love coming to the rink. Unfortunately, our careers have expiration dates, so I’m enjoying coming to the rink. We have a great group of guys; whether we win or lose, we will support each other. For me, that love of the game keeps me going.

ITR: You and Kyle Neuber are the oldest players on the team; do you find it difficult to bond with and understand the younger players who join the team?

Pendenza: It’s interesting. My youngest brother is about 21 years old. They keep me young; I think I’m everyone’s older brother. I have that brotherly influence on them, but they all have little quirks. It’s fun hanging out with the younger guys, for sure.

ITR: Do you find it a challenge that, as captain, you have to worry about more than just your play?

Pendenza: I welcome it. That’s always been my role in life. I’m an older brother to two younger brothers, so I’ve always had to lead by example. I’ve been the older guy for the last few years anyway, so I’ve grown into that role. I welcome the role because I want to see guys succeed and have a good time; that’s what makes it all worth it in the end.

ITR: Which former teammate do you miss the most in the locker room? Why?

Pendenza: That’s a tough one; we’ve had a lot of good guys here over the years. I would bring back our whole group from the last two years: Ben Masella, John McCarron, Blake Winiecki, Levko Koper, and Mike Neville. We became a family. Many of those guys got married and have kids, and they’ll have a special place in my heart and my life. We’ll be brothers for life. I’d love to see them in the locker room again.

ITR: You currently wear number 22 for Everblades; is there any significance to that number for you?

Pendenza: Growing up, my uncle was my hero. I used to go to his high school hockey games, and he always wore 22. I asked him a few years ago why he wore 22, and he said he started wearing 22 because I was born on the 22nd of November. That’s why 22 is my number.

ITR: While at UMass Lowell, you stated that you wanted to pursue a career in hockey and open an Italian restaurant. With the Milwaukee Admirals, you said you wanted to use your degree in finance and work in that industry. Have you decided what you’d like to pursue after you retire?

Pendenza: If money weren’t an issue, I’d definitely open a restaurant or bakery. I like cooking, and I enjoy baking even more. It’s (baking) is my side thing to get my mind off hockey. I grew up in a bakery; my grandfather owned a bakery. So, that’s what I’d do for sure.

ITR: Would you open it down here in Florida or up in Massachusetts?

Pendenza: Ideally, I would have both spots because my wife and I live down here, but I would love to have one in Boston, where my family is.

ITR: Have you switched allegiances to the Florida Panthers over the Boston Bruins?

Pendenza: No, Boston sports fan through and through, and that will never change.

Photo by: James Slemp for Inside the Rink

Joe Pendenza has had a great career and has left an indelible mark on the team and the fans. He is seventh on the all-time scoring list for the Florida Everblades and within 15 points of Ernie Hartlieb. Joe and his teammates have the Everblades sitting in the final playoff spot. If he can continue to lead the team to success, then we can expect the Everblades to make another deep run in the playoffs and a third Kelly Cup in a row. And if he bakes as he plays, when, as Joe put it, his career expires and he starts life after hockey, he’ll have an equally successful bakery. You can see Joe play the Orlando Solar Bears in the Everblades’ next game Wednesday night at Hertz Arena.

James Slemp

I write for and photograph the Florida Everblades for ITR. I am a retiree that has turned my hobby of photography into a business. I currently live in Sarasota, Florida with my wife, Christy, but I'm originally from California. My previous career has taken me all over the US and the world and I definitely enjoy traveling. I've played hockey for over 30 years, learning as an adult, and love the game.

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