December 18, 2011

From NEHJ: Peverley a true believer

By Jesse Connolly

For some, the road to the NHL is a path paved with gold. Highly-touted prospects are thrust into the spotlight and fast-tracked to fame, fortune and success.

Undrafted out of St. Lawrence, Rich Peverley worked his way through the ECHL ranks to the NHL champion Bruins. (Getty) When draft day came and went without his name being called, Rich Peverley knew it wasn’t going to be that easy, but he certainly never expected it to be. Then a teenager at St. Lawrence University, the Guelph, Ontario, native knew the odds were stacked against him.

“I didn’t have a great first year,” Peverley said of his freshman season, in which he managed just two goals in 29 games. “My second year, I had a better year and thought I had a chance to get drafted. The older mentality about bigger guys might have had something to do with it, but it didn’t really matter to me. There were a lot of guys getting signed as free agents.”

While some of his collegiate counterparts had NHL contracts awaiting them, Peverley began his pro career with the South Carolina Stingrays of the ECHL — a league where most dreams of ever reaching the National Hockey League die on the vine. The speedy forward certainly knew he had a long journey ahead of him if he ever wanted to reach the sport’s highest level, but he chose to take the approach of tackling each rung on the proverbial ladder one at a time.

“I never really thought that far ahead,” Peverley said. “I always just kind of thought about the year I was going to have and where I was going to go from there. I never really thought about the NHL. I just thought about making the next step, whatever that may be.”

A stellar rookie year that saw him finish second on the team with 30 goals certainly boosted Peverley’s chances of making that next step, but his stint with the Stingrays in 2004-05 taught him many valuable lessons.

“I went to a great place where I got to play a lot and play with some great players,” he said. “I don’t look at that as a negative part in my career. I learned a lot and that was vital for me in getting to where I am.”

Living in the South and spending countless hours on bus trips through largely rural areas undoubtedly was taxing at certain points, but Peverley had nary a complaint.

“It’s similar to any pro life, you’re just making less money,” the 29-year-old forward said with a grin. “That’s essentially what it is. It’s smaller towns, but it’s still fun, and you’re still playing pro hockey and doing it as a job, so it’s fun.”

The paychecks may not have been pretty, but Peverley didn’t mind squeaking by to keep his dreams alive.

“It’s probably anywhere from $600 to $700 a week,” he said of his ECHL salary. “It’s not a lot, but guys seem to manage.”

After splitting the 2005-06 season between the Reading Royals and the AHL’s Milwaukee Admirals, Peverley earned his first NHL contract and was called up in short order by the Nashville Predators. The following season saw him earn a permanent spot with the club down the stretch, but a permanent address wasn’t something he’d nailed down quite yet.

“You live in hotels a lot when you’re up and down,” Peverley said. “In Nashville, one year when we went to the playoffs there, I lived in a hotel for four months. That’s just the way it goes.”

Having seemingly carved out a role for himself with the Predators, a slow start in 2008-09 led to Peverley being placed on waivers by the club. He quickly was snatched up by the Thrashers.

“Sometimes a change of scenery is good for some players, and I think that was the case for me,” Peverley said. “But they gave me an opportunity to get to the NHL level. They could’ve taken drafted players, but they took me to get called up so I was thankful for the opportunity.”

Peverley hit the ground running in Atlanta, posting an astonishing total of 35 points in 39 games, a run that caught many by surprise — himself included.

“Right off the hop I was playing with Ilya Kovalchuk, and he’s a truly dynamic player in this league,” Peverley said. “I got a couple points and that really boosted my confidence. I kind of just took it from there and felt more confident in my abilities.”

En route to a career-best 22 goals and 55 points in 2009-10, Peverley inked a two-year extension that he thought would keep him in Atlanta for the next pair of seasons. But when Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli offered the struggling Thrashers Blake Wheeler and Mark Stuart this past February, Peverley was once again on the move.

“There’s different times in your career when you’re going to get traded or moved, and you can’t take it personal,” he said. “You try to prove to the other team that they made a mistake getting rid of you, but they had to make a move at the time. It was a young group and we were losing a lot. For me, it turned out to be the best move of my career.”

Given that the Bruins went on to capture the Stanley Cup, and that Peverley played a key role in them doing so, it’s no wonder he can look back and make such an assessment.

Had he never been given a ticket out of town by the Thrashers (who went on to relocate to Winnipeg over the summer), the high-flying forward’s offseason would’ve begun in April yet again. But because Chiarelli — who kept an eye on him dating back to his collegiate days — thought he was an integral piece to the championship puzzle, Peverley was given the chance of a lifetime.

“You don’t like not playing in the spring, and that was always something that kind of aggravated me,” Peverley said of his frustrations with missing the playoffs in Atlanta. “Being able to be a part of a team that made such a great Cup run and then obviously win it, that’s something I’ll never forget and obviously the best time of my career.”

Following his playoff heroics, which were highlighted by a two-goal performance in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Finals, Peverley got off to a quick start in his first full season in Boston with three goals in the first six games. He was rewarded with a three-year extension that will pay him an average of $3.25 million through the 2014-15 season.

Rich Peverley's playoff heroics were highlighted by his two-goal performance in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Finals. (Getty) “Yeah, I want to be here, and this is a great organization and great city, and one of the best places to play in the league,” Peverley said when asked if he feels a greater sense of security than he did with his last contract in Atlanta. “I’m really happy to be here and that’s why I signed.”

Peverley certainly feels as though he’s finally found a home here in Boston, but he admittedly always planned to be in pro hockey for the long haul — no matter where that path took him.

“I think I always saw myself as a player that wanted to have a career,” he said. “I was going to give it three years in the ECHL. If nothing had come about, I would’ve gone to Europe. I would’ve probably made a career of it over there. I always saw myself playing, so I’m just lucky they took a chance on me at the American League level.”

While a few breaks along the way undoubtedly come in handy, Peverley’s tremendous amount of resolve and dedication are why he finds himself where he is today. He paid his dues in spots where success stories like his own are about as easy to find as a needle in a haystack.

Peverley easily could have been just another kid who gave it a shot but called it quits at the first sign he didn’t have what it took to make it. Throwing in the towel and giving up on his aspirations, however, was never an option.

Having defied the odds himself, the Bruins winger offered up some advice for young players facing a similar uphill climb toward reaching their ultimate goal.

“I would always just say to believe in yourself,” Peverley said. “If you have a passion for the game and you work hard, things always tend to work out. The cream always rises. I think there’s always going to be people that don’t believe in you or don’t believe you can make it to the next level, but that should be a great motivational tool to just work hard and prove them wrong.”

Peverley probably wouldn’t have had any complaints if his road to success hadn’t been lined with so many hurdles, but enduring it all and achieving the ultimate hockey glory must have made sliding on that Stanley Cup ring that much sweeter.

This article originally appeared in the December 2011 issue of New England Hockey Journal.

Jesse Connolly is the Bruins beat writer for New England Hockey Journal. Read his Black and Gold Blog daily at hockeyjournal.com. He can be reached at jconnolly@hockeyjournal.com