by Scott Strickman || AHL On The Beat Archive
The term joey can be used to describe a baby kangaroo. While his size, stature and even name may be the equivalent in hockey standards, 5-foot-9, 190-pound San Antonio Rampage center Joey Tenute has proven to be anything like his marsupial homonym.
“I think quickness and skill overcome size,” Tenute said. “Some guys can look at it as, ‘Is size holding me back?’ But I would never use that as an excuse. I’m out there on the same ice surface as anyone else.”
There may be bigger, stronger players at every level Tenute has played, but his production has still been among the elite at each stop.
In the 2002-03 season, during his junior days in the Ontario Hockey League, Tenute put up an astounding 112 points, scoring 41 goals to go with 71 assists. Two years later, while a member of the ECHL’s South Carolina Stingrays, Tenute tallied 34 goals and 41 assists in just 68 games on his way to being named rookie of the year in his first professional season.
Hearing grumblings that his size just won’t equate to prolonged success have seemed to only make him better and his will stronger.
“Growing up, obviously I’ve heard that before,” Tenute said. “People say, ‘You’re too small, you’re not strong enough, you’re never gonna make it.’ But when it comes down to it, you’ve got to play the game just as everyone else has to play the game. You can’t look at it as size is an excuse. I think all my life I’ve proved I can play at every level I’ve played at.”
On the ice, sure, Tenute provides a viable scoring threat for the Rampage. However, it’s his hustle and willingness to do whatever it may take that separates him from the ordinary.
“I think my speed and my shot are my main assets,” Tenute said. “I also like to try to be an energy guy out there and bring a spark to the team. I’m a team-first guy and I want to win just as much as anyone on this team. Whatever way I can contribute, that’s what I try to do.”
Rampage left wing Peter Vandermeer, who played with Tenute in Hershey last year, is aware of his teammate’s impact.
“Joey’s a really highly-skilled guy,” Vandermeer said. “He can bury the puck from absolutely anywhere, so other teams have to be aware of him anytime he’s on the ice. He can score from the blue line or in tight He’s got an unbelievable shot.”
But, as expected for someone who has had to deal with adversity and a world of external doubt, there is much more to his game than meets the eye.
“I think that I consider myself a leader,” he said. “I’m the type of guy that brings a fun atmosphere to the rink and I try to keep the guys loose, but also I try to lead by example out there. I put a lot of pressure on myself to score goals and contribute to the team any way that I can. Any way I can help the team, that’s what I try to do.”
His presence adds an extra element the Rampage may have lacked in seasons past, having only qualified for the postseason once in their six-year existence.
“That’s big coming here to San Antonio,” Vandermeer said of Tenute’s playoff experience. “Things have really turned around a lot from how things have been here in years past. Joey’s got a lot of experience in those big games. It just gives him confidence. It helps him make, not only himself, but our team better.”
Tenute hopes to use that experience to help guide the Rampage in their quest for a Calder Cup trophy.
“Playing on those two teams (in Hershey) the past two years, I see a lot of similarities and a lot of the same pieces to the puzzle that we have here,” Tenute said. “Well, we’ll see when it comes playoff time, but I think we’ve got a great team here. I think to just make the playoffs would be disappointing. I think we have got a team here that could take a serious run at the Calder Cup.”
One of the major pieces connecting the Rampage jigsaw is the undersized Tenute himself.
“He’s one of the big pieces to the puzzle, that’s for sure,” Vandermeer said. “You need guys like that to bury the puck; big goals, at big times. He’s a game-breaker. He’s not the biggest guy in the world, but he’s a heck of a player for us.”
The “little” Joey wearing number 10 for the Rampage could be changing the very definition of big.