Joe DiPenta won’t be in the lineup for Frolunda's exhibition game Thursday against the Ottawa Senators. He hopes that is the last big game played by Frolunda that he misses this season.
DiPenta, a defenseman from Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia, walked away from the NHL this summer to sign with the Swedish club and begin a new chapter in his hockey career.
"For me, the big thing is to listen to what your heart is telling you," is how DiPenta explained his unconventional career choice.
Frolunda hosts the Senators – and local-boy-done-good Daniel Alfredsson – in an exhibition game Thursday as part of the run-up to the Bridgestone NHL Premiere 2008 series between the Senators and the Pittsburgh Penguins this weekend at the Globe Arena in Stockholm.
Because of Sweden's tax laws, DiPenta has yet to have report to Gothenburg. DiPenta must bide his time for a few more weeks before he can report to the Indians, who are already almost a month into the Elitserien season. Under Swedish tax statues, DiPenta would be taxed almost 60 percent of his salary if he plays more than six months for Frolunda.
Waiting a few more weeks to begin the season, however, beats not playing at all. And for DiPenta, that was an all-too-real option this summer. The 29-year-old, a depth defenseman for Anaheim last season, was facing free agency and was only interested in a one-way deal to stay in the NHL, the league he had called home for the past three seasons after a six-year apprenticeship in the American Hockey League.
"I told my agent (Larry Kelly) that I didn't want to play in the minors again," DiPenta told NHL.com. "I was on a two-way deal with Anaheim and managed to stay up the whole year, but I didn't want to go through that again. I toughed it out in the minors for five years and I just felt that I was done with that life."
DiPenta is nothing if not a realist. He knew that the demand for a stay-at-home defenseman that managed just 23 games last season would be minimal at best. He had even contemplated retirement, preparing to enter the real-estate business in Southern California.
"Retirement was something that was on my mind if I didn't get a job in the NHL," DiPenta said. "It was something that was on mind, but not something I was happy about being on my mind."
Then the call came that changed everything and retirement thoughts were banished for at least another winter.
Ulf Dahlen, a former NHL player and assistant coach, was on the line. He had just taken the head-coaching job with Frolunda and felt his team was in the market for a reliable, stay-at-home defenseman. Dahlen, during his time as an assistant with Dallas, had seen a lot of DiPenta and felt that he was a perfect fit for the team Dahlen wanted to build.
"We were looking for a defensive defenseman that could play a little bit of a physical game, and that is pretty much the way Joe plays the game," Dahlen told NHL.com. "The name came up in discussions with the staff here and as soon as I heard the name, I was all for it. I said right away, 'I've seen Joe play and the way he dedicates himself is very high.'"
And that was that.
DiPenta spent a few days mulling the offer and said yes before the NHL free-agent season was even a week old. He had checked out the situation with Frolunda and believed that it was a perfect fit.
"I think it was meant to be because Frolunda showed so much interest in me and made me feel really wanted," DiPenta said. "It was very nice to feel like you were going to be an important part of their team, especially after last year when I only played in 20-something games because I was the seventh defenseman in Anaheim."
Now DiPenta is waiting to impatiently report to Gothenburg, a beautiful Swedish town that is as passionate about hockey as any city in North America. He will soon leave for Norway, playing some tune-up games with a pro team there. Then he will finally report to the Indians.
"I think it was meant to be because Frolunda showed so much interest in me and made me feel really wanted." -- Joe DiPenta
"I'm a little anxious about going over there a month into the season and only having a couple of weeks to get ready to play," DiPenta said. "I'm nervous about that part of it."
If the past year has taught DiPenta anything, it is the value of patience. Things have a way of working themselves out for the best. He would love to return to the NHL someday – especially on a one-way deal – but he is also OK if that never comes to pass.
"I believe that whatever is meant to be will be," he says. "Going to Europe was not something that I ever planned on doing. To play in the NHL again would be great, but I'm content with where my career is going right now."