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by Thomas LaRocca / Los Angeles Kings
Most sports fans are aware of a Joe Pa involved in Big-10 athletics.

Joe Pa., of course, is a reference to Joe Paterno, the Penn State head coach who is entering his 42nd season at the helm of the Nittany Lions.

But Joe Pi, that is another story…

…And while we are on the subject of Big-10 football, a week ago, one of the greatest upsets in the history of college football occurred as Division IAA Appalachian State defeated another Big-10 school in No. 5 Michigan, 34-32, at the Big House in Ann Arbor, Mich.

I know what you are thinking, why is Big-10 football being discussed on

Well for one, Kings defensive prospect Jack Johnson went to the University of Michigan.

In addition, fellow Kings defensive prospect Joe Piskula, (Joe Pi), who is quickly making a name for himself, went to one of the Michigan Wolverines’ biggest rivals, in fellow Big-10 school, the University of Wisconsin.

“Jack (Johnson) knows Wisconsin owns him,” Piskula said. “We won a National Championship (in hockey) a year ago. We always go back and forth about that a little bit.

“Wisconsin football (currently ranked fifth in the coaches’ and AP polls) is ranked up there and it was really nice to see Michigan go down.”

Kings fans might be somewhat acquainted with the former Badger Piskula as the 6-4 defenseman skated in five games with Los Angeles last year after signing with the organization on March 23.

Granted, most Kings fans did not get to see him play in person, as ironically, all five games that Piskula skated in were on the road.

That, however, worked to the benefit of the young Piskula.

Piskula played in his last collegiate games with the University of Wisconsin in the state of Minnesota, losing to the No. 2 University of Minnesota Gophers, 4-2, on March 16 and then concluding the 2006-07 season and his collegiate career with a 4-3 win vs. No. 4 St. Cloud State the next day on March 17.

Exactly seven days later on March 24, he was back in Minnesota, again playing hockey, but this time for the Kings against the Minnesota Wild at Excel Energy Center, where he logged a career-high 14:01 ice time in his second NHL game.

“It was really cool,” Piskula recalls. “Our last games were in Minneapolis and I came out to play with L.A. right away and it was exactly one week from my last college game that I played against the Wild. I played my first game in Chicago the night before. A lot of the guys (from Wisconsin) came out to see me in Chicago. Madison [Wisconsin] is just two hours away.

“It was a perfect situation.”

In his five games at the NHL level, Piskula went scoreless with six PIMs. This was on the heels of playing his three years at Wisconsin where he appeared in 112 games, scoring 3-19=22 with 80 PIMs and posting a plus-36 rating as a Badger.

“It was definitely a really good experience to come up here after college and get to play immediately,” Piskula said. “It was nice to come here now as a rookie and be able to know a lot of the older guys and the pros. It really helps.”

Having just a taste of life as an NHLer, Piskula wants more and entered rookie camp this year hoping to grab the attention of Kings management and possibly crack Los Angeles’ top-six defensemen.

Piskula gave this report on how camp was going thus far: “It is going good, everyone is working hard and competing and the coaches are working on the finer points of our games and fine tuning those. [The coaches] give each individual person pointers on the little things that they need to work on. They are very good about helping each guy get better.”

Another reason why Piskula might be enjoying camp this past week is that one of his buddies from Wisconsin is also working out in El Segundo.

Jeff Likens, who is under an AHL contract with the Monarchs, is also getting a look at the Kings prospect camp.

Likens, a 5-11 defenseman with a right shot, played in four seasons at Wisconsin scoring 9-47=56 in 159 games with the Badgers.

“It has been great,” Piskula said. “We were actually roommates last year in a house in Wisconsin. We were partnered up a few times. It is cool to have a friend here too and a familiar face as well.

“We are good friends and it has been nice to have him around.”

Perhaps the pair will end up playing together in Los Angeles or maybe get their start this year in Manchester, with the Kings AHL affiliate.

“I don’t have much control over that except to play. Wherever I end up I will either work hard to get up here to LA or work harder to stay here.”

Either way, Kings fans have not heard the last from Joe Pi.

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