By Andy Kent
Naples Daily News
ESTERO, Fla. – An alternative to day care somehow became the catalyst for Brett Peterson‘s hockey career.
Considering the physically demanding and fast-moving sport appears nowhere in Peterson’s family history, he still finds it funny how he fell in love with Canada’s national pastime.
Now, at the age of 26 and in his third professional season in the ECHL, the Florida Everblades defenseman can honestly look back and thank his mother’s busy schedule at the time for exposing him to what has become his passion. It’s also taken him to Atlantic City and Johnstown, Pa., in his brief pro career.
Jackie Peterson was a dean at the renowned Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., back in 1983 when Brett was an energetic 2-year-old.
She worked closely with the hockey team dealing with the players’ academic affairs, and when she was first introduced to Engineers head coach Mike Addesa, little Brett was with her.
When you hear Jackie and Addesa tell the story, some of the details differ just a bit, but the crux of it has Jackie looking for something that could keep Brett busy while she tended to her daily responsibilities as a dean.
Addesa remembers he and his late secretary, Nancy McGrath, thinking the same thing as they looked in the corner and spotted a couple of skate aids, telling Jackie to leave Brett with them.
From there, Addesa says, Brett started pushing the skate aid in his street shoes and showed a natural ability right off the bat. When Jackie returned to pick him up, Addesa suggested she enroll him in a skating program.
“He has not come off of his skates since he was 2-years-old,” says Jackie, who is now Dean of Students and Vice President for Student Affairs at the College of Holy Cross. “I can’t think of any year â€” there is no year â€” that he was not in skates since 2. Isn’t that something? Who would know that? I didn’t know that, I figured this seems like a good thing for him to do because he has a lot of energy.”
That energy took Peterson from upstate New York, out to California, then to Colorado and North Dakota and back to Massachusetts, all the while making a name for himself in a sport with very few African-Americans in uniform.
Daryl Peterson, Brett’s father, went from skeptic to full-blown supporter after seeing his son take so well to the ice at RPI’s Learn to Skate program put on by Addesa. Brett was closer to 3 at the time and was holding his own with kids two and three years older than him.
“Mr. Addesa obviously played a strong role in me even continuing to play hockey and getting me started in hockey,” Peterson says. “I come from a background where absolutely nobody played hockey, no one skated, nothing. And he kind of opened the door to hockey not only to me but to my family in light of showing me the game and how great it is, so obviously tons of thanks and respect go to him.”
Once it became clear hockey was a sport Brett could thrive at, Daryl seeked out the best youth programs and coaches he could find. As an independent chemical engineering consultant at the time, he had lots of freedom to travel and do his research.
At the same time he enrolled his son in the Troy Youth Hockey Association, Daryl hooked Brett up with Dave Randall, a power skating instructor whose mother was an Olympic figure skater.
Randall had an enclosed rink behind his house and gave private lessons, which Brett credits for making him such a good skater. That combination of skating and hockey instruction in Troy led to a spike in Brett’s development as a hockey player.
“They had an in-house league, and some of the parents were telling me that (Brett’s) probably good enough to go into the travel league, and I had no idea what the travel league was at the time,” says Daryl, who still does some consulting but is a full-time district manager for a convenience store chain in Massachusetts.
“So he got into that and a few years later, when he was say 7 or 8 years old, it really got competitive because then we got into higher levels. We were going into Toronto, Montreal, Quebec and a lot of the Canadian teams up that way, and the travel distances went from 10-12 miles to 100 miles, 200 miles.”
The move to California came as a result of a job opportunity for Jackie within the Clermont College system, and that’s how Brett became a part of the Anaheim Junior Ducks, right around the time Disney’s Mighty Ducks movies were being made. Disney president Mike Eisner’s son played on Brett’s team and Daryl took over as president of the hockey association.
Travel league was the natural next step, only this time Brett found himself playing in places as far away as Anchorage, Alaska, Kamloops, British Columbia, Dallas and Phoenix. It was during this stretch, as Brett’s skill level continued to increase, that he caught the eye of the U.S. National developmental team in Ann Arbor and was one of only two players west of the Mississippi River to be selected.
Daryl was impressed by the number of players from Cushing Academy located in Ashburnham, Mass., and decided that’s where he wanted to send Brett for high school, which indirectly led Brett back to Addesa.
“During the summers I worked with a group called Hockey Night in Boston, and Brett was a regular,” Addesa recalls. “We would select all the best players in the United States and some of the best Canadian players and they’d have this big five-week tournament at the end of July into August. You’re first eligible to go there when you’re about to be a sophomore in high school, so Brett was one of the top sophomore 15-year-olds in the country.
“And then he was there as a junior and a senior and ended up getting scholarship offers from many schools. He chose Boston College and won the national championship (as a freshman in 2000-01) in his own backyard at the Civic Center in Albany, N.Y., right down the road from Troy.”
Addesa, once a scout for the Detroit Red Wings after leaving the coaching profession, now owns his own professional scouting company called Alliance Hockey, and does some consulting at the ECHL level. He worked with ex-Blades Steve Saviano and Keith and Phil Aucoin in Hockey Night.
Brett’s entire family has become his biggest fans, from his mother and father to his 30-year-old sister, Danielle, who is the international education director at George Washington University. Even Brett’s cousins, who used to take pleasure in dominating him on the basketball court and football field, have gained a new-found respect for him.
“Everyone in my family is over 6-2, so when we played pickup basketball I was the runt of the litter,” says Peterson, who stands 5-foot-11 and weighs 199 pounds. “I think that kind of helped because hockey was something I could be better than all of those guys growing up with because we have a lot of cousins that are around the same age, so they were always kind of envious because none of them could skate. So that’s kind of why I swung to hockey instead of going the other direction â€” plus I wasn’t tall enough.”
Peterson jokes that at first the cost of the sport frightened his father after looking at the difference between the price of a basketball ($28) and a pair of skates ($300). Daryl believes every penny he spent was well worth it because Brett’s hockey prowess garnered him a college education (he majored in communications at Boston College) and a bright future beyond the hockey rink.
“It’s not for everybody, and I think what happens is parents that get involved with hockey have a great opportunity to spend time with their child,” Daryl says. “It’s spending hours and hours of time preparing them, investing money and opportunity for them to obviously advance in the sport, and if they’re lucky enough then they can advance to the next levels as we go up, to college, pros, and then it becomes a career.
“And I think what Brett decided was that obviously he loved the sport enough to invest the time and effort into learning it from the grass roots as a youth.”
Daryl also sees his son embracing the fact that he is a role model not only to other African-American kids, but to anybody interested in playing hockey. He feels the more people that are exposed to hockey from all walks of life â€” male, female, Hispanic, African-American â€” the better the chances that hockey can resemble a diverse community.
As for Jackie, who forever has a new outlook on alternative day care, she still is amazed at what hockey has done for her son and what kind of a man it has helped turn him into.
“He’s just a great man. I can’t believe that he’s a man, but he has a lot of integrity,” Jackie says. “He’s just a warm-hearted individual and he’s just a good person, an all-around good person. So I couldn’t be prouder because he’s skillful, he has a great education from Boston College, so I always say, ‘Well, you know what? If he ends up having all of his teeth knocked out, at least he’ll have a good degree.’ “