Newark’s Charlie Pens Jr.’s hockey journey has racked up plenty of miles, but now he’ll get to start a new pro adventure in his home state.
Pens was signed by the new Delaware Thunder of the Federal Hockey League that will begin play in October at the Centre Ice Rink at the State Fairgrounds in Harrington.
The 60-mile trek down Route 13 is a welcome jog for a defenseman who left the state for high school, and ended up spending time throughout Eastern Canada and the Midwest.
Pens said his love of the game started as a 5-year-old with the Delaware Chiefs.
“Going up playing hockey, it’s a game you’ve never played before. You’re on ice skates, and you have to combine the physical strength of football, and the skill of lacrosse. It’s such a unique game, I think that’s why I appreciate and love it so much now.”
His success led him to join the Little Flyers based out of Aston, Pennsylvania, when he then had to make a decision leaving middle school.
High school ice hockey is only a varsity sport at a few schools in Delaware, and certainly isn’t played at the same level as New England and the upper Midwest.
The decision was made to send him to Hebron Academy in Maine, that featured a national-championship caliber program at its boarding school.
“It was a good way to get a good education, as well as play the best ice hockey in my age group. It was a very difficult decision to leave home, but at the same time we won a national championship my second year, so it was definitely worth the move. I definitely got better as a hockey player going against the top talent.”
After scoring 3 goals in his final season at Hebron, Charlie went on to the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL).
That league was littered with familiar names to hockey fans, including future Philadelphia Flyers Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek.
Charlie remembered being assigned against Giroux.
”I’m a shutdown defenseman, so if there’s a superstar forward on the other side they put me on the ice to try to shut them down or slow them down. The funniest thing I could say about Giroux is one game against them he slashed our goaltender. I looked at him and said ‘hey bud, let’s go (fight).” He laughed at me, and then his left or right winger came up and tuned me pretty good. He didn’t have to fight.”
After spending 23 games in Cape Breton where he scored 1 goal but collected 45 penalty minutes, Pens went on to the Quebec Ramperts. His head coach was Patrick Roy, a 4-time Stanley Cup winning goaltender who was voted one of the top 100 greatest players in NHL history.
”I always wanted to be a goaltender, and he was one of my favorite players. I used to watch the Colorado Avalanche play the Philadelphia Flyers just to see Patrick Roy back in the day. It was surreal, I had never been star struck before. He’s a hard-nosed guy, he’s very tough, so everything I had thought about him had gone out the window. I had a lot of respect for Patrick.”
Pens ran into concussion problems that season, which came as he was hoping to train for the NHL Draft Combine.
He would be invited to then-Phoenix Coyotes Development Camp, where he got to sit at General Manger Wayne Gretzky’s desk, but the on-ice competition was at a whole new level for him.
“It opened my eyes to what real professional hockey looks like. What a real professional team does, and how a real professional team treats you. That was eye-opening. The main difference for me was the speed, size, and skill of the players.”
Unable to latch up with an NHL franchise, Pens bounced around for two years in the now-defunct All-American Hockey League, playing for the Madison Ice Muskies of Wisconsin and Queen City Storm from Ohio.
Taking some years off, Pens also played in Vermont, North Carolina, and most recently, Danville, Illinois, and said as he’s reached 31, the time is ticking if he wants to live out a top-level dream.
“I know that playing in the NHL at this point is a very, very, far-fetched dream. But if I can get some time in the ECHL or AHL this season or next, I would be absolutely enthralled.”
He’ll look to that that after moving from Illinois back to Delaware for his second year in the Federal Hockey League, which is in its 10th year of existence.
Charlie’s dad, Charlie, Sr., is the President and General Manager of the new club, said the type of players the Thunder are hoping to attract mirror some of those traits of his son.
“The style of hockey we’re bringing to the state of Delaware is a very physical, high-tempo, aggressive style. We’re going to hard in the corners, we’re going to play tough in the defensive zone, and my team is going to be full of players who love the physical side of the game. We’re careful in recruiting and scouting look for players all over the world who are a gritty, blue-collar kind of guy.”
Whether a second year in the Federal Hockey League will give Charlie Jr. that last chance at higher-level hockey, he said he’s already started his own DJ business, having performed throughout the Mid-Atlantic including Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Dewey Beach.
“I’ve always been into music, and I think that goes back to being a kid. I played drums and bass guitar growing up, so I was fascinated with DJs and turntables. Being that DJing is bottom-end, meaning that way that you mix music is baselines, snares, and snaps, that turned me on because those were the instruments I played growing up.”
Charlie’s instruments on the ice include the physical tools of being a defenseman, and the 31-year-old says he still has a lot driving him.
“I really love the game, and I really miss the game when I’m not playing it. Whether it’s the FHL, the ECHL, the AHL, or anywhere, I just want to play hockey. Thankfully my body has held enough that at 31 I can still play at a competitive level. There are guys in the NHL who are 35, 39, 40 years old. I think that if you take care of yourself, there shouldn’t be any issues to play to those ages.”
The Delaware Thunder will hold a Free Agent camp on July 27 & 28 at the Power Play Rinks in Exton, Pennsylvania, with training camp opening on October 14, before the franchise’s first home game on October 25 in Harrington.
The good news for Charlie Pens Jr, those miles he’s logged will shrink considerably, soon.