Opportunity knocking for Vandermeer

PHILADELPHIA, PA - SEPTEMBER 1: Pete Vandermeer of the Philadelphia Flyers poses for a portrait at the First Union Center on September 1, 2002 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Getty Images/NHLI)

by David Unkle and Patrick Williams

Seemingly insignificant on the second day of the NHL free-agency period, the signing of veteran AHL’er Peter Vandermeer by the Montreal Canadiens may prove to be one of the team’s most important acquisitions.

Stymied by a fourth-place finish (41-30-7-4) in the Northeast Division during the 2003-04 season, the Canadiens lacked a physical presence on the ice. Vandermeer, 29, plans to be part of the solution.

With 1,759 penalty minutes in 380 AHL games over the last eight seasons, Vandermeer is easily pigeon-holed into the role of enforcer, yet the 29-year-old forward has proven that he can find the back of the net.

Vandermeer potted 19 goals and 37 points as recently as the 2000-01 season with the Providence Bruins when former P-Bruins head coach Peter Laviolette used him on the power play.

“I liked staying in front of the net and dishing out abuse,” said Vandermeer on his role in Providence.

Vandermeer attracted the attention of the Philadelphia Flyers the following season and was arguably miscast purely as a tough guy, thereby negating his offensive talents. His combined totals during his three-year tenure in Philadelphia failed to match his totals in his last year with the Bruins.

Vandermeer spent last season with the Red Wings’ AHL affiliate in Grand Rapids, again doing little offensively while notching his fourth consecutive season with greater than 300 penalty minutes.

Following the ratification of the collective bargaining agreement, NHL teams such as Calgary, Washington and Detroit were among the teams interested in signing the Red Deer, Alta., native, but Vandermeer felt that his best shot at the NHL rested with the Canadiens.

“You see other guys get opportunities, and it starts to sneak into your head that you’ll never get a shot at the NHL,” said Vandermeer.

One of those players is Vandermeer’s younger brother, Jim, a defenseman with the Chicago Blackhawks who has logged 70 games in the NHL.

The eldest of the six professional hockey brothers, Vandermeer hopes that the new NHL landscape will create opportunities for low-priced AHL veteran like himself.

“This is something our whole family could only dream about,” said Vandermeer, on the prospects of playing in the NHL with Jim. “It’s more than just our dreams but it’s also the dreams of our home town.”

At the same time, he talks of igniting an Original Six rivalry with the Blackhawks, serving notice that Jim is “toast” the first time they meet in the NHL.

The quintessential lunch-pailer, Vandermeer laughs when re-calling his various stops, “I’ve had to go through a lot of different levels (of hockey) to catch someone’s eye.”

A blue-collar Canadian, Vandermeer relishes the return to once-again play in Canada. That passion for hockey led Vandermeer to follow the Canadiens and the Edmonton Oilers, especially when they met up with their rival in Toronto.

“I liked any team who beat the Maple Leafs,” said Vandermeer, who may get his chance against Toronto during the first week of the season.