By Andy Kent
Naples Daily News
ESTERO, Fla. – For eight years, Peter Worrell was one of the most feared players in the National Hockey League as a member of the Florida Panthers and the Colorado Avalanche.
Being 6-foot-7 and 275 pounds with a right hook that could drop Mike Tyson will do that.
Worrell, now 28, is trying to make a comeback of sorts, and that means paying his dues for a short amount of time this season in the ECHL with the Charlotte Checkers.
“Obviously, throughout my career I was used to being the young guy,” said Worrell, who bypassed the Double-A level out of juniors and went straight to the American Hockey League as a rookie in 1997-98. “Now coming here, being older and trying to show guys the ways to play and how to be a pro has been a different experience. It’s been fun and it’s a way for me to work my way back up and do what I need to do to get back to where I should be.”
Last year’s lockout, which led to the cancellation of the entire NHL season, seemed to put a period on Worrell’s career. He did not go over to play in Europe or down in the minors like some other NHL players, and heading into the summer he considered himself retired.
But when he saw other guys working out and starting to play after the lockout ended, Worrell said he got the itch to play again, even though the new rules being implemented appear to be designed to eliminate the big, physical fighter on the ice. He knew he wasn’t in shape and would have to catch up on the conditioning aspect, and while he does that, Checkers head coach Derek Wilkinson is excited about what Worrell brings to his team.
“He’s been awesome, a great guy and a lot of fun,” Wilkinson said. “I didn’t know what to expect. I’ve played against him, but I didn’t know what to expect when he came, like if he was just going to put in his time until he goes back (to Hartford of the AHL), or was he going to come and work at it. You wouldn’t know he played eight years in the NHL because he’s right in there working with the guys having a lot of fun and he’s focused.”
Everblades head coach Gerry Fleming also played against Worrell. The two met in Fleming’s last season as a pro, which was Worrell’s rookie year, and although they never fought, Fleming knew Worrell was going to be a force in the NHL for a decent amount of time.
Fleming, at 6-5, 250 pounds, is a big man in his own right and knows all about what kind of an impact Worrell can have on a hockey game.
“He’s a big, tough guy and that’s about all I need to remember about him, to be honest,” Fleming said. “He’s a solid guy, played at different levels and I’m sure he’s going to help their young guys. He can take care of himself, and I can remember how he tuned Brad Brown pretty good when I was in Montreal. He’s a presence.”
The New York Rangers signed Worrell as a free agent, assigned him first to Hartford and then to Charlotte when it became obvious how far behind the Quebec native was in his conditioning. He played his first ECHL game last week against the Pensacola Ice Pilots on the road and managed to stay out of the penalty box.
Of course, being at the ECHL level for now and playing against young, up-and-comers who want to make a name for themselves by taking him on has Worrell ready for anything.
“They can challenge me all they want, I don’t think I’ve ever gone into a game worried about what can happen,” he said. “I came into pro hockey with a reputation, so it’s something you deal with and you live with and you try not to become a victim of it. I never have and I never will be one of those guys that just wants to fight, I think I’m a better player than that. But the way I play, I kind of invite that stuff and when it happens it happens.”
As for the biggest difference between playing at the ECHL level as opposed to the NHL, Worrell points to the travel.
“The 14-hour bus rides are a little different than the plane rides,” he said. “If they leave me down here all year they leave me down here. The worst thing is I’m playing hockey, and it’s up to me to work my way up.”
Until that time, players on opposing ECHL teams would be smart to keep their guard up when taking a shift with Worrell on the ice.