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Tampa Bay Lightning's Richard Petiot presses on four months after his father died of a heart attack

TAMPA — Richard Petiot and his father, Jerry, were so close, they spoke twice a week by phone when Richard was away playing hockey.

Jerry told his son to work hard "because he worked so hard himself," Richard said.

He told Richard to "have fun" because "you're doing something you love."

But what Richard said he remembers most fondly of those conversations was how Jerry could diagnose what was wrong with his car, and tell him how to fix it, simply by listening to Richard describe the problem.

"He was great that way," Richard said. "I definitely miss him."

Jerry, 59, died of a heart attack Nov. 7, four months before Richard was traded to the Lightning.

"It's been a bittersweet situation for us," said Richard's mother, Shirley. "He would have loved to have his dad see this."

What Jerry would have seen is his son, a defenseman, making the most of his opportunity.

Acquired from the Maple Leafs in a March 4 deadline deal, Petiot, 26, played two games for AHL Norfolk before his call-up to Tampa Bay. With two assists and at plus-3 in six games, and averaging 19:54 of ice time, the 6-foot-3, 200-pounder with the good stick and long reach has proved a serviceable addition.

"He skates pretty well and is lanky," coach Rick Tocchet said. "If he can learn positioning and improve his skating, with his reach, there's a job for those type of guys."

Jerry had numerous jobs, said Petiot, who called his father a kind of unofficial mayor of Daysland, Alberta, population 818, about 90 miles southeast of Edmonton.

Jerry was a school custodian, a volunteer fireman, patrolled with the police and worked the clock at senior-league hockey games.

When Petiot, who has three brothers and a sister, came home for the summer, he helped Jerry cut grass at the school. They worked in the back yard.

No surprise, then, Jerry's death took a toll.

Petiot, with Toronto's AHL team at the time, spent almost two weeks at home. Even when he returned, he wasn't ready to play, physically or emotionally, and missed more than 10 games, he said.

"It was tough," Petiot said. "Every day thoughts were running through my mind about how much I missed him. But you have to battle through it."

The battle now is to stay in Tampa Bay's plans. It is a fight Petiot takes seriously given his long road to the NHL.

Drafted 116th overall in 2001 by the Kings, he played four years at Colorado College before three seasons with the Kings' AHL team in Manchester, N.H.

He played two games with L.A. in 2006, one against the Lightning in which he had a penalty and a shot in a 4-1 loss.

But an arthroscopic procedure in 2006-07 to fix a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, and a strained medial collateral ligament in his left in 2007-08, limited him to 53 games combined.

He was signed in July by Toronto as a free agent.

"I'm playing for a job, so I'm going to play hard, not back off at all," Petiot said. "I have to be physical and make plays."

"He's a great kid," Tocchet said. He wants to learn. He's trying very hard."

Just like Jerry said.

Damian Cristodero can be reached at cristodero@sptimes.com.

Tampa Bay Lightning's Richard Petiot presses on four months after his father died of a heart attack 03/23/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 24, 2009 9:47am]
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