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by Erin Pollina / Buffalo Sabres
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Joe DiPenta is glad to be back.

After living in Sweden for a year, a return to North America, an NHL organization and some familiar faces was exactly what he hoped for.

“It feels like home,” DiPenta said of signing with the Buffalo Sabres.

 It helps that he is already familiar with some of the team’s staff.

Prior to playing for the Frolunda HC Goteborg in the Swedish Elite League, the defenseman played 171 games with the Anaheim Ducks from 2005 to 2008 - earning a plus-12 rating and 21 points (5+16).

At that time, the Ducks’ American Hockey League affiliate was the Portland Pirates - where head coach Kevin Dineen presided.

“Joe is a guy that by far is one of the most dedicated athletes that I’ve ever met,” Dineen said. “He just carries himself in a way that makes the coaching staff endeared to his work ethic.”

That list includes Ducks’ Head Coach Randy Carlyle - who dubbed the blueliner “Joe Dependable” during the 2007 playoffs - as well as Dineen who was one of the voices in favor of signing him.

“I felt he was an extremely good fit in the organization, not only with what he brings as an individual, but how it seems to rub off on a lot of people,” Dineen said. “Those are the kind of players and people that you want to surround your future with.

“He is one of those guys that will never be the first to admit that he has the highest talent level. And what he doesn’t have there he certainly makes up in heart and character.”

DiPenta will admit, however, that he was tested this past season in Sweden.

As one of the few players in the organization to speak English, he found transitioning to his new team was much more difficult than he expected.

“Little things that we take for granted in this country are a lot harder when you can’t speak the language,” he said. “Even just trying to read signs and trying to figure out where a post office is, you really start to get an appreciation for people that come to our country … I have a lot more compassion for the Europeans that come to play hockey over here now.”

While adapting to the culture proved a challenge, DiPenta added that it did help rejuvenate his passion for the game.

“That last year in Anaheim before I went to Sweden was tough,” he said. “My ice time when down quite a bit. To go over there last year and play every game, have a role on the team, I think was good for me mentally.

“Attitude and passion can take you a long way.”

In DiPenta’s case, it brought him back home.

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