By MIKE ASHMORE
Special to ECHL.com
Before Rich Peverley was well on his way to establishing himself as a household name with his performance in the Stanley Cup Finals with the Boston Bruins, he was a little known center trying to break into professional hockey in the ECHL.
After a four-year stay at St. Lawrence University, the now 28 year old went undrafted, and joined the South Carolina Stingrays for the 2004-05 season. In 69 regular season games, Peverley posted a 30-28-58 line, and got his first professional playoff experience in the process, posting four points in four Kelly Cup Playoff games.
"It was a great year, we had a really good group of guys," Peverley said in an exclusive interview with ECHL.com earlier this season.
"Your first year pro, you really learn a lot off the ice and on the ice. Both worked out well. I really learned a lot that year."
Despite a stellar first pro season, Peverley returned to the ECHL for a second season, but this time with the Reading Royals. With just a one-game call-up to the AHL’s Portland Pirates in his first year, it seemed Peverley’s progression would be delayed, but he needed just 11 games to get out of the ECHL for good. After tallying four goals and 11 assists for the Royals, Peverley would sign a deal with the AHL’s Milwaukee Admirals that eventually would propel him to the NHL.
"Obviously, your second year pro, you feel a little bit more comfortable. You know what you’re getting into in terms of the professional game," Peverley said. "I had a good coach in both places. In Reading, Karl Taylor did a lot to help me get up (to the next level)."
The Admirals serve as the AHL affiliate for the Nashville Predators, but Peverley was only on an AHL deal at the time. After putting together a 46-point season in 65 games during the 2005-06 season, Peverley finally forced Nashville’s hand while in the midst of a 68 points in 66 games campaign in Milwaukee, and he was signed to an NHL deal in January of 2007. He subsequently made his NHL debut on March 4, 2007 against the Anaheim Ducks and even collected an assist in the Predators 3-2 overtime defeat at the Honda Center.
"It was incredible," said Peverley of his debut.
"I never looked too far ahead. I thought I could play in the American League, and once I played in the American League, you realize that you’re close to the NHL. It was incredibly gratifying to know I made it."
Peverley split the 2007-08 season between Milwaukee and Nashville, and made the Predators out of camp in 2008-09. After a disappointing start in which he collected just nine points in his first 27 games, Peverley was sent down to the minors, only to be claimed by the Atlanta Thrashers on waivers. In 39 games that season with the Thrashers, Peverley re-established himself as an NHL forward, and says the change of scenery stabilized his career.
"It kind of jumpstarted my career," he said. "Nashville helped me get my foot in the door, but Atlanta really gave me an opportunity to play a lot of minutes, and I thank them for that."
In 180 games with Atlanta, Peverley collected 124 points, but was ultimately traded in mid-February of this season with Boris Valabik to the Boston Bruins for Blake Wheeler and Mark Stuart. Despite a modest output in the regular season, the Guelph, Ontario native has had a big impact in the postseason.
Part of a trio of former ECHL stars in the so-called "Hub of Hockey" with Michael Ryder and Tim Thomas, Peverley has now stepped up to take the injured Nathan Horton’s spot on the top line, and he scored two goals in Wednesday’s Game 4 against Vancouver to help the Bruins even the series at two games a piece.
“When I got traded here, I wasn’t sure where I’d fit in, but you’d take it right away,” Peverley told Boston reporters after the game.
“I’d probably be home watching the finals (if not for the trade). Coach has put me in a role that benefits me. I’m not going to be Nathan. I’m just trying to play my game. I just wanted to use my speed."