As a professional hockey player, Joe Bretto tipped the scales at a whopping 250 pounds, so it was not a surprise when he was tagged with the nickname "Brute" by his fellow teammates. He also liked playing a rough and tumble style of game, making use of his burly large frame.
At the age of 18, Bretto joined the Hibbing Maroons of the CHL in 1931-32, playing in 36 games, scoring seven points. He returned for 40 games the next year, scoring seven goals and 16 points.
Midway through the 1933-34 campaign, Bretto made the jump from the CHL to the Boston Cubs of the Can-Am league. That was a step towards joining the IHL, where he suited up for both the Detroit Olympics and the Windsor Bulldogs. The next stop for the Brute was Cleveland as a roster player with the Barons of the IAHL in 1936-37.
From 1938 to 1942, Bretto played with the St. Paul Saints of the AHL before deciding to retire. He sat out for two years but found that he missed the game and attempted a comeback at the age of 31. He played in three games with the NHL's Chicago Blackhawks but was unable to sustain a regular spot on the roster. In 1945-46, Bretto played three games for the St. Paul Saints of the USHL before retiring.
Although his NHL career was anything but spectacular, Bretto was twice a First Team All-Star in the AHA and was a Second Team All-Star on three other occasions.