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by Staff Writer / Pittsburgh Penguins
Joe Vitale wanted to play hockey to follow in the steps of his two brothers.

Now, he is on the ice at the collegiate level, but he has aspirations to play in the NHL after finishing at Northeastern University.

Vitale, the Pittsburgh Penguins’ 2005 seventh-round choice (195th overall), has helped in the rebuilding process of the Huskies’ men’s hockey program. The young team is currently 9-12-4 overall and 6-10-4 in the Hockey East – a big improvement from last year’s 3-24-7 record.

“This season we are off to a much better start than last year,” the sophomore alternate captain said. “We are in the middle of the pack this year. At this point everything is doable.”

Northeastern currently ranks seventh in its division. However, the Huskies are six points out of fourth place.

“We have been very successful as of late,” Vitale said.

Indeed, the team has gone 7-3-2 since the beginning of December. Vitale believes that part of the Huskies’ improved record is because of the team’s new assistant coach, Shawn McEachern.

“Having him [McEachern] has been like a godsend. He has a lot of knowledge and wisdom about the game,” the forward said. “He is a very, very good coach; we are having a lot of success with him.”

McEachern joined the Northeastern hockey staff for the second half this season. It is the first coaching position since retiring from his NHL career.

McEachern was drafted by the Penguins in 1987 while attending high school in Cambridge, Mass. A year after graduating from Boston Unviersity, McEachern played in the 1992 Olympics for Team USA. After competing in the Olympics, McEachern made his debut late in the NHL season with the Penguins. He had nine points in 19 playoff games and helped Pittsburgh to a Stanley Cup victory.

McEachern finished his 14-year professional hockey career with 579 points (256+323).

Although the Huskies have improved as a team this year, especially with the new helping hand on the coaching staff, Vitale believes he has had a rollercoaster-like season. He currently has 12 points (5+7) in 25 games.

“I am getting my average points as a sophomore; [consistency] is just something that I need to work on,” he said.

Vitale said he believes that he continues to progress as a player, and with, two years left at Northeastern, he sees a lot of hope in his future.

“I am an aggressive, physical player and I know that I need to work on the little things,” the 6-foot-1, 197-pound forward said. “I want to have more presence around the net. I look forward to getting better over the next two years.”

He says he needs to improve on his hands, shooting skills and stick handling.

Last season Vitale finished the year with 16 points, with eight goals and eight assists.

Vitale knows that he can have an impact for the Northeastern hockey team.

“I bring a lot of enthusiasm to the game and I work hard and am efficient,” he said. “I am not really a skills kind of guy.”

Only a sophomore, Vitale had enough leadership skills to earn an alternate captaincy for the Huskies this year.

“Being the alternate is not a big deal,” he said. “My coach just asked me and of course I was going to take it.”

When Vitale finishes his career at the college level he hopes to make it to the NHL with the Penguins.

“I would obviously like to play pro someday in the NHL,” he said. “I would like to win a Stanley Cup someday; that’s far off, but that is good as it gets so why not set my standards as high as I can?”


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