by Barry Holloway || AHL On The Beat Archive
Rich Peverley doesn’t have much of a pre-game routine, he doesn’t take part in elaborate superstitious rituals, and he has no particular choice of music to fire him up in the locker room.
It is not by any gimmick that Peverley leads his team in scoring nor is there some lucky charm responsible for Peverley’s recent 14-game scoring streak.
His coach, Claude Noel, has a couple of his own reasons why Peverley emerged from a player undrafted to leading an AHL team in scoring: “He has a lot of skill, he’s got a lot of speed, and [he’s] a very smart player.”
Peverley hasn’t always been the player he is today. He got his start in hockey as a 6-year-old boy when his parents enrolled him in a local youth program. As Peverley put it, “They were looking to get me out of the house and interact with other kids.”
Since then, it has been all hockey for Peverley. Living in Canada there was no shortage of hockey to play or watch. Peverley admits he loves to watch any form of NHL hockey, but if he has to pick favorites he knows just the team.
“Growing up and living close to Toronto, the Leafs were always such a big thing.” So how did the 24-year-old find his way from the most populated province of Canada to the Brew City?
Peverley first made his way down to the states to play hockey for St. Lawrence University’s long-storied hockey program. “[At the time] they were one of the top five teams in the nation. It was important for me to go to a winning team.”
Peverley also enjoyed the benefits of its proximity to home. “My parents could make it [to St. Lawrence]. They pretty much made it to every home game.”
Despite Peverley’s desire to continue the winning tradition of St. Lawrence, his senior year he found himself in a situation that he would later describe as one of the most disappointing moments of his hockey career.
“I really wanted to come out on a winning team, and we just couldn’t break .500. I tried to take it upon myself to have a winning team, and we couldn’t.”
Peverley led the Saints in scoring each of his last three years of NCAA hockey, but after two NHL drafts the Ontario native found himself without an NHL team to call home.
“At the time, I was a little disappointed I didn’t get drafted. What can you do? All I did was take it as a motivation. I knew I could play with guys that had been drafted and maybe even be better than some of the guys who were drafted.”
After his tenure with the Saints, Peverley tried out with his hometown Maple Leafs’ AHL team, then in St. John’s, Nfld.
“Being the [NHL] lockout year, it was tough getting into the AHL coming out of college,” he said. “I basically had a choice to go to any ECHL team. [South Carolina] had been calling me all summer, and I wanted to go somewhere where I was wanted.”
Peverley’s presence was definitely welcome in South Carolina where he became one of the team’s top five scorers and racked up 30 goals in his first season. While playing for the Stingrays, Peverley got his chance to play in the AHL with the Portland Pirates.
The next season, Peverley found his way over to Milwaukee, and into a fulltime role in the AHL. By the end of the year, he was centering a line between current NHL’ers Jordan Tootoo and Scottie Upshall.
“From Peverley’s standpoint,” explained Noel, “he’s an undrafted player that has started off in the ECHL and has been able to work his way up to Milwaukee and now is leading our team in scoring. He had to find somebody that believed in the way he played.”
Noel felt the skies were the limit for Peverley, but it was clear that his new student was still a gem waiting to be polished.
“When I saw him I thought, ‘He’s got a chance, but he’s going to have to make some changes.’ He had some things in his game we didn’t really like and that he had to change in order to stay at this level.”
Noel was not satisfied with how Peverley was using his quick skates. “I didn’t think he used his speed nearly enough. I wanted him to become more of an attacker. I don’t think he used his speed with near the efficiency that he does now. We kind of rebuilt his game a little bit and what he’s ended up doing is using his speed a lot better and now he’s a hard guy to handle.”
But the most important change he had to make, according to Noel, was becoming a more responsible player on defense. Noel, known for never being short on words, struggled to explain what he thought of Peverley’s old habits on defense: “Defensively he’s come along way from where he was. Defensively, he would swing and drift and…ugh!”
But Noel pointed that was the past: “He’s made the necessary changes.”
In his first season, Peverley played understudy to a talented cast in Milwaukee. With many holdovers from Milwaukee’s Calder Cup team in 2003-04, it was easy to see how any player, especially an undrafted rookie, could be overlooked on such a roster. However, it wasn’t the individual honors that drove Peverley, it was the success that the team had.
“I love being part of a team that wins,” he explained. “We always came to the rink believing we had a chance to win.” And win they did. The Milwaukee Admirals finished with their third straight 100-point season. While most players were out golfing, the Admirals found themselves back in the Calder Cup Finals in 2006 in a head-to-head match-up with the Hershey Bears.
But the Admirals let the series get away and in the offseason lost handfuls of key players to the NHL or free agency. Only six players, including Peverley, remained from last season and Admirals fans wondered who would carry the offensive load in the upcoming season.
The media felt it would come from the newly acquired forward Ramzi Abid, who was part of a free-agent swap that saw Darren Haydar go to Chicago. The fans hoped it would come from Nashville prospect Alexander Radulov. No one suspected Peverley.
Once again, flying under the radar, Peverley quietly became the Admirals’ leading scorer. “It doesn’t really surprise me,” explained Noel. “He’s really jump-started our team offensively. I’m real happy with where he’s playing now.”
Peverley sees things differently: “I don’t really look at myself as the leading scorer, because we have so many guys that can score goals.”
No matter what the reason for the Ads success, the team powered through December, posting a 9-2-1-3 mark during the month.
“I really want to help this team make it to the playoffs,” Peverley explained. “And be dangerous in the playoffs.”
Milwaukee’s now back in the playoff hunt. As Peverley comes close to beating his rookie numbers with only half as many games played, one wonders if Peverley isn’t also in the NHL hunt. “I want to make it to the NHL. I’m working really hard, because I want to play there.”
Noel has seen many NHL players come and go on his roster and, as always, he has an opinion the matter. “I think he has a chance to play. I’m hoping he might get a chance maybe this season. He’s not under NHL contract right now, but I’m hoping that maybe that happens.”
Peverley’s story is truly an underdog one, filled with lessons of hard work, determination, and believing that all things are possible. With those lessons learned, the Milwaukee Admirals have been living up to their “Never Say Die” motto and seem nothing short of determined to take this fresh faced team back to the finals.