Matt Peca’s father his driving force in path to NHL

Matt Peca, right, poses with his father, Frank, left. [Tampa Bay Lightning]
Matt Peca, right, poses with his father, Frank, left. [Tampa Bay Lightning]
Published February 12 2018
Updated February 14 2018

Lightning rookie center Matt Peca said he gets the question all the time.

Is he related to former NHL forward Michael Peca? Is he your dad?

(Answer: No relation).

"I mean, it's a fair question," Peca said, smiling. "There's not a lot of Pecas out there."

Peca's actual father, Frank, 59, never played pro hockey (though he did dabble in a men's rec league). But Frank was literally a driving force in Peca making the NHL as a 5-foot-8, seventh-round pick from Petawawa, Ontario.

Well, Peca's father and "The Van."

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Frank Peca drove Matt, 24, and a few other neighborhood kids two-and-a-half hours to Ottawa three-to-four days a week so that they could play more competitive youth hockey. That's five hours round trip.

"It was like a second job," Matt said.

With Matt getting called up from AHL Syracuse last month, that meant he could bring his father on the Lightning's annual "Dad's Trip," which makes stops this week in Toronto and Buffalo.

Frank, who ran a lab doing chemical and corrosion research, would split up his shifts to do so. They packed the family's beige Oldsmobile Silhouette, which was like a home away from home.

Fathers of Lightning players watch the game-day skate Monday in Toronto. [Tampa Bay Lightning]
Fathers of some of the Lightning players watch the game-day skate Monday in Toronto. [Tampa Bay Lightning]
Peca ate in the van. He slept. He did homework. Peca said he and his buddies would bring in video games and laptops to watch movies.

"Some of my best memories," Matt said.

That included when then 11-year-old Matt and his friends helped Frank change a tire after one blew out on the highway on the way back from a Christmas tournament in Toronto.

"We did what we could," Matt quipped. "Had to find a Canadian Tire or Walmart to get a new tire."

Frank said he retired the van after 400,000 kilometers (roughly 250,000 miles) when Matt went on to college at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut. But all those miles paid off, as Lightning scout Chris Yzerman (brother of GM Steve Yzerman) spotted Matt in the Ottawa area. It was Chris Yzerman who pushed for the Lightning to draft Peca, who'd go on to be a standout captain for the Bobcats. Peca made his NHL debut last season and has played 18 NHL games, though he will be a scratch tonight against the Maple Leafs.

"Every team that has taken a chance on him has been happy," Frank said.

Fathers of Lightning players pose at center ice before the Lightning’s game against the Maple Leafs Monday in Toronto. [Tampa Bay Lightning]

Frank was one of 10 dads who weren't on last year's trip, including Louis Domingue's dad, who made the 16-hour flight from Ethiopia, where he was filming a documentary.

Frank didn't drive this time — he flew from Ottawa, joining the other dads in an outing at the Hockey Hall of Fame today in Toronto.

"It's a whirlwind trip," Frank said. "I'm just glad I'm here."

Frank gets the Michael Peca questions, too. He laughed telling the story how the first day Peca arrived at Syracuse, "Michael Peca" was on the nameplate above his locker. Frank said Michael Peca's parents once called his parents to figure out if there was any relation, but there wasn't. Michael Peca, 43, is the general manager of the junior Buffalo Sabres, with Tampa playing in Buffalo Tuesday.

Said Matt: "Who knows — maybe one day we'll cross paths."

GAME NOTES: G Andrei Vasilevskiy will start for the Lightning, with Peca, Slater Koekkoek and Jake Dotchin expected to be scratches again. … D Victor Hedman is playing in his 600th career NHL game. "Time flies," he said.

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