PECA’S LOVE FOR THE GAME CONTINUES INTO COACHINGAug 5, 2021
By Suzie Cool
For the love of the game, but at what cost? Or should I say, lack thereof?
After 14-year professional playing career, Rochester Americans newly named assistant coach Michael Peca began to make his way through the coaching ranks in North America. Peca got experience from recreational leagues to the Ontario Junior Hockey League, to even hitting the highest level just last season thanks to a stint with the Washington Capitals.
What many don’t know, however, is that Peca was going to take that opportunity at the top for free. Simply, to invest in his next opportunity.
“I think it’s just investing in your future. I think, sometimes if you believe in something you got to take a chance and believe it’s for the good and there’s a lot of benefits to it,” stated Peca following his introductory press conference earlier this week.
Now, with all that said, let’s not forget the resume that the rugged, two-way forward built up over his playing career before we really dive into the coaching aspect of his game.
As a player, Peca’s professional career spanned from 1992 to 2009, with a few stops in between. Peca went on to star in 864 games in the National Hockey League with the Vancouver Canucks, Buffalo Sabres, New York Islanders, Edmonton Oilers, Toronto Maple Leafs and Columbus Blue Jackets. Not to forget, Peca is also a four-time 20-goal scorer who piled up 465 points (176+289) and added 34 points (15+19) in 97 playoff contests while twice guiding his team to the Stanley Cup Final, including in 1999 as captain of the Sabres.
WATCH: SUZIE COOL WITH NEW AMERKS ASSISTANT COACH MICHAEL PECA
The Toronto, Ontario, native is also a two-time winner of the Frank J. Selke Trophy, given annually “to the forward who best excels in the defensive aspects of the game.”
If you’re a Western New Yorker, you probably remember Peca the most from his five-year stint with the Sabres from 1995 to 2000 when he scored 96 goals and notched 121 assists for 217 points over 363 games. His tenure in Buffalo was highlighted by three 20-goal seasons, including a career-best 27-goal campaign in 1998-99, and four straight playoff appearances between 1997-2000.
Not too shabby.
Now, when we look at Peca’s coaching experience, his resume might not be as long as his playing days but it’s still very impressive. Impressive enough to think that there’s no way in the world that this two-time Frank J. Selke Trophy winner would ever consider taking a coaching position and think of it as an internship to acquire the knowledge and unique skillset to be behind the bench at the pro level.
In 2012, Peca began coaching in the Ontario Junior Hockey League as the head coach of the Buffalo Jr. Sabres from 2012-2014. He posted a 69-28-11 combined record in 108 games, leading Buffalo to back-to-back West Division titles and consecutive playoff appearances while also earning OJHL Coach of the Year honors for the 2012-13 season. Following his coaching stint, Peca served as general manager and director of hockey operations for the club for five years.
It was last season that Peca made the jump to the pros as he spent the 2020-21 campaign as a player development coach with the Washington Capitals, working primarily with the players on the taxi squad. A pretty sweet deal to jump from the OJHL right up to the National Hockey League, right?
Well, what if your intentions were to do it for free to simply learn as much as you could to make you that much better at what you do?
It’s mind-blowing when you consider what Peca’s initial intentions were as he joined the Capitals organization, to take on an opportunity in the pro ranks and absorb as much knowledge as possible “pro bono.” The best part of it all? Peca got to do much more than coach and develop the future talent of the Capitals organization and they just so happened to have a vacant player development coaching position to have the ability to pay him.
“I was an extension of the coaching staff,” mentioned Peca as he listed his responsibilities in Washington last season. “I did video with them, I was in on all of the meetings, I was on the ice, ran some optional practices and really got into what it’s like in the coaches room.”
Peca then went on to discuss how all these different opportunities really opened his eyes as to why he wanted to continue to coach at the professional level thanks to seeing all the behind-the-scenes action that comes along with the title.
“After a little while, once I got my feet under me, I just knew that this was what I wanted to do. I’ve always wanted to coach, because I really love being around the athletes, but I think last year was just a real awakening and just assured me that this is definitely the path I’m going to pursue.”
Coincidentally, Peca and Amerks head coach Seth Appert were in talks last year about the new assistant coach’s possible return to the Sabres organization, however, right now presented a more perfect time for him to make the move behind the bench. It’s even better that he knows how well his mindset and intentions align with Appert and assistant coach Mike Weber’s when it comes to developing the daily habits of the talent in the Buffalo pipeline.
WATCH: MICHAEL PECA INTRODUCTORY PRESS CONFERENCE
“It’s the intangibles, it’s the behavioral things, it’s being humble, hardworking, and having good habits. I’m such a habits person. The way you do things sometimes is the way you do things all the time,” said Peca.
When asked about how excited he was for his first official game behind the bench as an assistant coach in Rochester, Peca couldn’t help but reiterate how this opportunity isn’t about him at all. A trait quite like that of Appert.
“First and foremost, this is about the players. It’s not about me or the coaching staff, it’s about the players and our job is to help them be as good as they can be.
Even with this as a new pursuit in my career in coaching, I’m doing it because I love the game and I know I can have an impact on players, organizations and win a championship at multiple levels. That’s what my drive is, that’s my why.”
In the simplest of terms, he’s just here for the love of the game.