Some of you may need to take a deep breath in preparation for this post.
Why I Love Hockey #22 - Michael Peca
Now, I know some of my loyal readers and internet friends are not exactly fans of Michael Peca. And I understand why. Look people, I'm from Buffalo, okay? I saw it all: the wedding scheduled for the same day as Game 7 of the '99 Stanley Cup Finals, the season long holdout, the alleged bad-mouthing of the organization to any and all free agents after he left, the pathetic pleading with various teams to sign him, please God sign him this off-season. None of that is very pretty.
But! It wasn't always like that. Michael Peca was one of the first hockey players I knew by name and by sight. And you know what? I loved watching him play. Peca is, in case you haven't noticed, not a very big guy. I was amazed that a guy that small could hit so dang hard. When he hit someone, that guy felt it and it didn't matter if he was twice Peca's size. During his time in Buffalo, Peca was a valuable piece of the team every single time he stepped on the ice. And this wasn't the new NHL where everything is called (sometimes) and little guys have more freedom and protection on the ice. The game was full of clutching and grabbing and it was built for big, physical men. Despite that, Peca made his presence on the ice known. Was he dirty? Sure, sometimes. Was he effective? Heck, yes, he was. For all the complaining about the Stars stealing the '99 Cup, I can tell you this - that Sabres team really had no right to be in the Finals at all. They did not, with the exception of Dominik Hasek, have an overwhelming amount of talent. What they did have in spades was fight and scrap and Michael Peca was the beating heart in the center of it all. (Until Game 7, I guess. Because really, what was he thinking with that?) He shouldn't have been successful at the game he was playing - it didn't make any sense - but he was.
Listen, I'm glad the Sabres didn't give into to Peca's pleading and bring him back for this upcoming season. That was a bad idea and I really think anyone who thought it was going to work was looking through the rose-colored glasses of yesteryear. I wouldn't even say Peca is one of my favorite players now. There's been a lot of water under that bridge in the last seven or so years. But part of me will always be that brand new, fresh-faced fan who loved watching that gutty little guy slam around guys who outweighed him. For a girl who had never been on ice skates and couldn't fathom the skills involved, Peca was my connection, the player I appreciated,the one who drew me in. For all his faults, it's quite possible that I wouldn't be here writing this blog right now if it weren't for Michael Peca. I couldn't have grown as a hockey fan if I'd never become a fan in the first place. That part of me will always wish him well.
Programming note: Tomorrow morning I'm heading out on a little jaunt around Pennsylvania - Pittsburgh, Hersey, and Lancaster - with some family. I assure you, I'll be keeping my eyes peeled for Sidney Crosby even though it's probably too early for him to be back in the 'Burgh. I'll be out of touch for a week or so so this is probably the last you'll hear from me until after Labor Day. I hope everyone has a great week!