BUFFALO, N.Y. — First impressions are often lasting.
That was certainly the case with Michael Peca.
The year was 1994. It was an afternoon game in the Onondaga War Memorial in Syracuse. The Syracuse Crunch were facing the Hershey Bears.
Hershey’s Paul Jerrard was skating through the neutral zone with his head slightly down.
A prospect by the name of Peca stepped into him with one of the cleanest, yet most savage hits that I’ve seen in three decades of covering hockey.
I can still remember the sound of it echoing through the old AHL barn.
Jerrard lay motionless on the ice. He was helped off and thankfully alright.
I can remember interviewing Peca afterwards. He was matter of fact about it… a man of few words. The hit was how Michael Peca made his statement. Enough said.
It wasn’t long before Peca was off to Vancouver and then traded to Buffalo in 1995.
Peca, in my view, evolved with many of those same characteristics still intact.
Growing into the role of captain for the Buffalo Sabres. Leading first with action and then words. Maximizing his talent and winning the Selke trophy as the league’s best defensive forward twice. A mainstay in the Sabres Stanley Cup run back in 1999.
Fast forward to Monday, with the Sabres announcing that Peca will join Seth Appert’s staff as an assistant coach in Rochester. It’s a natural part of the progression for Peca who worked his way into coaching with the Buffalo Jr. Sabres. He spent last year as a development coach for Washington and now back to an organization that was such a central part of his career.
I asked Peca to what degree his philosophy on coaching, mirrored the way he played the game.
“I think when I look at what I was like as a player… maybe what the game was like a little bit," Peca said. "It can never be understated how you can still promote hard work and attention to detail… learning good habits on a daily basis is only going to make you better and more focused at what you do. Helping them mature and find themselves as young men is going to be just as important as developing their games.”
That speaks to discipline, work ethic, accountability, and leadership.
Words that epitomize what Michael Peca was as a player, and what I suspect he is and will be as a coach.
The Sabres are an organization that’s lacked leadership. The results, or lack thereof, over the last decade more than speak to that.
The Sabres/Amerks have added a leader in Peca that I suspect will once again serve them well as they chart a new course. Someone who can infuse some old school into a new generation of player.
Teaching the intangibles that often don’t show up on a stat sheet, but frequently lead to wins. And reminding them about the importance of keeping their head up:)