Sports Hockey

Former Lumber King Matthew Peca makes National Hockey League debut with Tampa Bay Lightning

By Tina Peplinskie, OBSERVER MULTIMEDIA JOURNALIST

Chris O'Meara/AP Photo:
Tampa Bay Lightning center Matthew Peca (63) shoots the puck past Winnipeg Jets's defenceman Jacob Trouba (8) and goalie Connor Hellebuyck for a his first NHL goal during the second period Tuesday, Jan. 3, in Tampa, Fla.

Chris O'Meara/AP Photo: Tampa Bay Lightning center Matthew Peca (63) shoots the puck past Winnipeg Jets's defenceman Jacob Trouba (8) and goalie Connor Hellebuyck for a his first NHL goal during the second period Tuesday, Jan. 3, in Tampa, Fla.

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Former Pembroke Lumber King and Petawawa native Matthew Peca is making the most of his opportunity to play in the big leagues.

Because of a number of injuries on the Tampa Bay Lightning, the 23-year-old centre made his National Hockey League debut on Dec. 28 against the Montreal Canadiens. He was called up from the Syracuse Crunch of the American Hockey League, where he has five goals and 17 points in 28 games this season.

He recorded his first point, an assist, in the New Year’s Eve game against Carolina. After setting up Alex Killorn’s goal, he found the net himself against Winnipeg on Jan. 3. He took the lead pass and made no mistake as he rifled a wrist shot from the faceoff circle to beat Jets’s goalie Connor Hellebuyck up high.

"It was a good breakout, a good pass by (Vladislav Namestnikov)," Peca told the Tampa Bay Times earlier this week. "I didn't think I'd have that much room. I told myself if I had that much space I'd just shoot it. That was mindset going in the entire time, constant daylight on the left side. It all worked out."

Peca is also making an impression on Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper, who told the Times "every game he plays he's making it tougher to send him down when guys come back."

In a pre-game interview prior to his debut, posted on NHL.com, Peca said he was excited to be called up and felt it was a good opportunity.

When asked about his expectations, he said he was just going to play his game.

“I’m going to use my speed, try to fit into their system the best I can and help the team win,” he added.

After his debut, he said his first game was fun and fast, but he thought he kept up pretty well. He did admit to being a bit nervous, but said the nerves subsided after the first few shifts.

“Once I got my legs under me and I touched the puck a few times I forgot about it (being his first NHL game),” he told NHL.com.

He was surprised when he returned to the bench after his first shift and team staff offered their congratulations.

After the Carolina game, where he recorded his first assist, Peca told NHL.com he was feeling more and more comfortable with each shift. The key is playing simple hockey and relying on his speed.

In his first five outings, Peca has played between 11 and 14 minutes per game, averaging 18 shifts per the game including some time on the power play.

Peca was originally selected by the Lightning in the seventh round, 201st overall, at the 2011 NHL Draft and in April 2015 he signed a two-year, two-way deal with the Lightning.

He was a member of the Lumber Kings’s team that won a fifth consecutive Central Canada Hockey League title, Fred Page Cup and RBC Cup national junior hockey championship. In two seasons with the Kings, he played 117 regular season games, scored 47 goals and added 79 assists for 128 points.

He also played in 29 playoff games, recording 27 points (14G, 13A).

After graduating from the Lumber Kings, Peca went onto play 157 career NCAA games during four seasons with Quinnipiac, scoring 42 goals and adding 101 assists.

tpeplinskie@postmedia.com

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