Josh Pietrantonio Has Loved His Time with Thunderbirds

Fan favorite Josh Pietrantonio has loved his time with Thunderbirds on and off the ice 

By John Dell of the Winston-Salem Journal 

Winston-Salem, NC - Here’s a likely reason why the Carolina Thunderbirds fans love forward Josh Pietrantonio: on the weekend, they can watch him at the Winston-Salem Fairgrounds Annex as one of the best players in the Federal Hockey League, and then he can serve those fans drinks as a part-time bartender at Pine Tree Tavern on Bethania Station Road other days of the week.

“Yeah, that’s a lot of fun seeing fans come by the bar,” Pietrantonio said .

Pietrantonio also has fun on the ice. That rings true this season as one of the core players of the first-place Thunderbirds, who have won 24 of their last 25 games.

Coach Andre Niec of the Thunderbirds went after a few key players when the franchise was being formed before last season. Pietrantonio was one of them.

Niec was so impressed with Pietrantonio’s leadership after last season he named him an assistant coach and captain for this season.

“He’s a hockey player and knows the game so well,” Niec said about the 25-year-old Pietrantonio. “I can’t say enough about what he’s done for this team, and we’re lucky to have him.”

Growing up in Hamilton, Ontario, the ultra-competitive Pietrantonio was a two-sport star. He nearly went to college on a soccer scholarship but decided hockey was his sport.

“I was better in soccer but loved hockey more,” he said.

He played four seasons of hockey at Niagara University before venturing into the world of minor league hockey. During his stints in the Federal Hockey League with Danbury and Berlin, teams that are no longer are in the league, Niec kept his eye on Pietrantonio.

“Andre traded for me when they joined the Federal Hockey League, and me being from Canada, I loved that this team was in the south and had warmer weather,” said Pietrantonio, who is 6-foot-2 and 190 pounds. “It’s been great being here and playing for this organization.”

Pietrantonio says working two nights a week as a bartender helps with bills.

He says because the Thunderbirds are having such a great season he’s recognized more around town.

“It helps that we are winning, but it’s fun when fans say something to me so that’s kind of cool,” he said.

Scott Brand, the team’s general manager, said many of the Thunderbirds have second jobs around Winston-Salem. Chase Fallis also works as a bartender at Pine Tree, and Mike Baker works at Mac & Nelli’s restaurant on Country Club Road. Both Mac & Nelli’s and Pine Tree are owned by Art Shaver, who sponsors Niec’s radio show and was the owner of the Winston-Salem Icehawks from 1997 through 1999.

Brand said what makes Pietrantonio a good teammate on and off the ice is his community work. He’s got the longest hair on the team and one of the longest beards, but on March 23 the Thunderbirds will raise money for cancer research, and Pietrantonio will cut his hair and shave for charity.

“He’s looking for a couple of sponsors that will put some money up so it’s going to be a big night for him,” Brand said. “He’s a dream player for us for all he does off the ice and in the community. And you see what he’s done on the ice for us.”

Pietrantonio is looking forward to getting a shave and a haircut for a worthy cause.

“I still have to find a charity to donate to, but that’s the plan,” he said, “and we hope to raise a lot of money from this.”

Pietrantonio has 17 goals and 33 assists to rank second in scoring on the Thunderbirds. He also has three game-winning goals. Having Pietrantonio and high-scoring Jan Salak on the same line has made the Thunderbirds that much more potent.

“I just try to be a leader for the boys, and I’ve been around a little longer than a lot of these guys,” Pietrantonio said about his role. “I try to lead by example, and we all want to get better every day here.”

He loves the makeup of the team and the versatility. Carolina won a game 9-0 earlier this season, but it also had to grind out several 2-1 victories.

“We have the same core group that we had last year for the most part, and we just know each other a little better,” Pietrantonio said.

While Pietrantonio says he still has some good years left for playing, he wants to get into coaching.

“I’m kind of learning from Andre as we go,” he said, “but one day I do want to coach. So he’s taught me a lot.”