Pelley, Devils major in chemistry

by Kevin Zalaznik || AHL On The Beat Archive

If hockey was purely scientific, Albany Devils captain Rod Pelley would be a chemist.

The Devils are off to their best start in franchise history with a 5-2-0-1 record entering this week, and their early success can be attributed to a few different elements: the power play (goals in six of eight games), the defense (held opponents to two or fewer goals five times) or the goaltending (sixth best goals-against average at 2.38).

But the word that keeps floating around is "chemistry," which is what the Devils have inside the locker room and on the ice. As the leader, Pelley gets a lot of credit even though he believes it takes all 23 players to make an impact.

"It’s a team effort," Pelley said after the Devils’ Tuesday practice at Times Union Center. "We have a group of guys who enjoy being around each other, can laugh and joke around, but when it’s time to get to work, play for each other. It definitely takes a lot more than one or two guys to bring that together."

Pelley is the sixth captain in franchise history and credits some of the team’s past captains for influencing his leadership approach.

"Grant Marshall and Pascal Rheaume were long time NHLers, Dan McGillis, Scott Lachance…," Pelley listed. "You are talking about guys who had played the game for years and years and years. They are still involved in the game now scouting, management, coaching. I was learning from some of the best leaders out there, guys who have played through injuries, broken necks and recovered. I look back at it now and think, ‘Wow, I was really lucky to have those guys there.’ I watched every move they made on and off the ice.

"I would assume that hasn’t changed much over the years. Young guys are going to come in and they are going to look for things to pick up on, looking at older guys. That’s something I’ve always taken pride in and, hopefully, I can be able to help a couple of guys out."

Head coach Rick Kowalsky tries to stay out of the way of his leadership group, which along with Pelley includes Tim Sestito, Dan Kelly, Chris McKelvie and Mike Sislo.

"When you have good leadership, the room should be left to those guys," Kowalsky said. "We talked about it a little bit at the beginning of the year. I think there just is a respect and admiration for Rod Pelley just because of the way he plays and the person he is. It’s tough not to like the guy. He’s not just your friend in there. He holds guys accountable and he says some things on the bench and it comes from the heart. When you have a guy like that it’s pretty easy for everyone else to follow."

Pelley’s journey to the Devils captaincy included four seasons at Ohio State before signing with New Jersey as a free agent during the summer of 2006. After five-plus years skating with the NHL Devils and their AHL team, the 29-year-old was traded to Anaheim during December 2011.

His decision to return to the organization this offseason was an easy one.

"To be quite honest, it was a little bit of a change of scenery, which was kind of nice," Pelley said of his time with the Ducks. "Over time, you realize what New Jersey has and what they believe in. The organization is built the right way. From the top on down, everyone is treated the same way and it’s fair. You really appreciate that once you are gone.

"My decision to come back was fairly simple. I was in Norfolk last year and the lockout was a bit of a tough year for a lot of guys. I would consider myself in that group. The decision to come back to the Devils was pretty easy and it happened fairly quick, right around July 5th. I’m really happy to be back and be a part of the organization again."

Pelley wants to eliminate the learning curve for the young players, teaching them what it means to be a true professional.

"I want to be a good example on and off the ice," he said. "Come in the rink every day and be a professional. There is a lot more to that and being a professional encompasses a lot of things. For me as captain at the end of the day, if I can help some of the young guys learn a little bit quicker, that will be something I would take pride in."

Born in Kitimat, B.C., Pelley is just 25 contests away from his 500th career professional game. In the AHL, he has produced 27 goals and 44 assists in 219 outings. In the NHL, he has registered nine goals and 20 assists in 256 games.