HEATHER FRANCI — Special to the Southern News
Gliding backwards on ice faster than others can ice skate looking forward is no easy feat as Mike Penna once learned at an early age. Penna, 22, plays defense for the Southern men’s hockey team.
He said he has been playing hockey since he was seven years old. After 15 years of skating, Penna makes playing hockey and skating backwards look easy.
“One thing hockey means to me is just like the camaraderie between my team. I could always go to the rink and rely on my teammates to talk about anything. It’s just like a big family,” Penna said. “Just playing hockey and having fun with your brothers on and off the ice. It’s a great time all around.”
Penna’s last name is no stranger to the men’s hockey team. His brother, AJ Penna, is a Southern alumnus and also played for the team. Penna said he has always looked up to his brother and in many ways has followed in his footsteps.
Penna was raised in West Haven. He attended Notre Dame-Fairfield High School where he played hockey and lacrosse. He transferred to Southern from Pace University. He went to Pace on a lacrosse scholarship and said he decided it was not a good fit for him.
Penna labels himself a “super senior,” otherwise known as a fifth-year college student. He is a liberal studies major with concentrations in history, political science and Spanish. Outside of school and hockey, Penna said he works at the West Haven Community House as a teacher in the after-school programs. After college he said he hopes to become a teacher.
“I am most proud of the work I do with the kids I work with,” said Penna. “Whether they are in the rink or in school doing well, it’s a big accomplishment. It makes me feel good.”
The captain of the hockey team, Joe Innamorato, said he knows how valuable Penna is to the team. Innamorato said he has known Penna since they were 7 and won their first state championship together.
“He is a huge part of our defensive corps. He plays in all kinds of situations and our defense honestly would not be the same without him,” said Innamorato. “Mike is an easy-going guy, really fun but always gets serious when he needs to be. He’s incredibly easy to get along with.”
Teammate Jordan Knightly said Penna is the kind of guy who is always there for you and isn’t afraid to speak up.
“I’m surprised he’s not a captain. He speaks up in the locker room and always gives good criticism. He’s like a captain,” said Knightly.
When it comes to the team, Penna said he knows the value of teamwork.
“Everyone on the team works so hard. We get up at 6 a.m. every morning and practice. It’s a battle every game to improve from our last game,” said Penna.
Penna is no stranger to winning state championships. Penna said the first one at 7 was just as memorable to him as in 2006 when he was a junior in high school.