By Leif Skodnick
Special to ECHL.com
South Carolina Stingrays center Joey Tenute has made a quick transition from playing junior hockey to the ECHL, scoring 10 points (7g-3a) in his first 13 games.
Tenute, however, will be the first to admit that the game is different in the professional ranks.
“It’s a lot faster and I find that you don’t have as much room or as much time on the ice,” said Tenute, who played four season in the Ontario Hockey League. “Guys are a lot bigger, a lot stronger, and a lot faster.”
A smaller forward at 5-9 and 180 pounds, the young rookie is quick to credit his teammates with aiding his adjustment.
“It’s been an adjustment, but the team’s been great,” said Tenute, who served as captain of the Sarnia Sting in 2003-04. “Everyone has welcomed me with open arms and we have a great system. I have great line mates and teammates and it’s worked out great so far.”
After being released by the Albany River Rats of the American Hockey League, Tenute, who was selected in the eighth round (261st overall) by the New Jersey Devils in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, received a call from Stingrays head coach Jason Fitzsimmons.
“How we found him was by word of mouth from Aaron Power, who had played with Joey in juniors,” said Fitzsimmons, who won Kelly Cup Championships with South Carolina as a player in 1997 and as an assistant coach in 2001. “I knew they had a lot of success together, and I’m a big believer in chemistry, so he was one of the first guys we went after and we got him.”
The experience of his first professional training camp wasn’t lost on the young forward.
“It was great to go up there and get the opportunity to play with some great players,” said Tenute. “It was an eye-opening experience and something I’ll never forget. I hope I get to do it again.”
“He’s off to a great start,” says Fitzsimmons. “He’s a guy that needed an opportunity and he is making the most of it. I like that New Jersey brought him in to camp in Albany, and I think he has a good shot to play in the AHL at some point.
“Skill-wise, he’s got great hands, a quick release and he throws his body around,” Fitzsimmons added. “I think the knock on him is his size, but he plays a solid physical game for a guy his size.”
Thus far, Tenute and a mix of younger and older forwards have accounted for most of South Carolina’s offensive punch.
“Everyone’s playing the same system and we’re all pulling the rope in the same direction,” says Tenute. “Things are going great. We’re getting the puck on net and keeping things simple, resulting in a lot of scoring chances.”
“We’ve got a lot of speed and we’re very skilled offensively,” said Fitzsimmons. “It’s very different than years past where we built teams based on physical presence and intimidation. Once we all get on the same page and start to gel together, I think we’ll have a lot of success.”
Originally from Hamilton, Ontario on the western shore of Lake Ontario, Tenute has set simple goals for this season.
“I just want to be a consistent player. I think if you’re a consistent player night-in and night-out that good things will happen,” said the young forward, who is averaging almost a point per game. “I think there are a lot of things everyone can improve. I want to watch the older guys and take what I can from them.”
Fitzsimmons has taken a hands-off approach in helping the rookie set his goals.
“Obviously, we have one goal as a team and that is to win the Kelly Cup. But when it comes to personal goals, I let him set them himself because I would think he set his goals high,” said Fitzsimmons, who is in his third season at the helm of the Stingrays. “I think at first he just wanted to adapt, but now, after 12 or 13 games, he knows he can be the dominant player he was in the juniors and he’s set pretty high goals.”
With the skill and talent that his club has, Fitzsimmons, who played in the Vancouver Canucks and Edmonton Oilers organizations, is excited about his team.
“Skill-wise, there’s more skill here than in past years, although it is a different league now,” says Fitzsimmons. “We’re deep in goal, we have mobile defense, and we have a group of talented forwards.”
Tenute is equally excited about his first professional team.
“I think as a team, the sky’s the limit,” Tenute said. “We’ve got a great group of character guys here. We’re going to continue to improve and play the system, and over the course of the season we should be fine.”