SUN Hockey Pool

Peca wants to be a force on offence

SCOTT ZERR -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 5:00 PM ET

Mike Peca is an interesting study in contrasts.

When he arrived in Edmonton for a press conference unveiling the Oilers' newest acquisitions, Peca went up on stage in ball cap, shorts and sandals.

Chris Pronger was in a suit.

It was clear evidence of the low-key person Peca is away from the rink.

On the ice, however, he has a tenacity that few in the game possess. He's a gritty worker with a knack for the net and a player well aware of what sacrifices are required to win.

The understated Peca becomes the intense Peca with a flick of the switch. The quiet, private soul morphs into the intense public persona.

"People get a good idea of who I am by the way I play," explained Peca. "The last four or five years - since having kids - hockey, as important as it is to me, isn't the priority in my life.

"The legacy I want to leave in my life is for my kids but having said that there is a legacy I want to leave in hockey as well - being a contributor to a championship team. When you have a loving family that you can go home to, coming to the rink is that much easier."

It wasn't easy for Peca to come to the rink during his final two years with the New York Islanders. His role had diminished and the Islanders were struggling.

Peca welcomed the trade to Edmonton on a number of levels, not the least of which was the opportunity to prove he could do much more than play a solid, defensive game. Four times in his career, Peca has gone over the 20-goal plateau, and during his first season on the Island he had 60 points.

Coming to the Oilers, a team desperate for offensive assistance up the middle, gives Peca the chance to show that he packs a scoring punch.

"For the 12 years that I've been in the league it's been a chip-and-chase system that I played," said Peca, who spent much of his first training camp with the Oilers alongside the highly skilled Ales Hemsky.

"I've never really played for a puck-possession team, so to get into the mentality that we're going to handle the puck instead of dumping it in all the time, it's a process that I'm getting more comfortable with.

"It may take a few games into the regular season for it to stick because old habits are hard to break. But I believe I've got enough skill and talent that in situations I'll be able to get a puck to Ales and help create things."

The Oilers were also keen to land Peca for his leadership on and off the ice.

"He's always been a leader and he makes the people around him accountable. He understands what it takes to win,'' said Kevin Prendergast, the Oilers' vice-president of hockey operations.

"We have that type of player in Ryan Smyth and Ethan Moreau but you can never have enough of them. We're going to get younger in the next couple of years and having a guy like Mike around with the kids we'll have, his work ethic is going to rub off on them and make them better players for us.

"And it's a move that was good for Mike. He's coming to a Canadian city, he knows he is wanted by this organization and he has a defined role. He's going to be a leader here and a guy who we count on as a No. 1 or No. 2 centre, and he wants to be that type of player.''

The Oilers are counting on the belief that the roster will include six to nine 20-goal scorers. Peca has bought in to the plan and from past experience knows it can work.

"The best team I played for to date was the '99 Buffalo Sabres that went to the Cup final, and we didn't have a top-scoring centre," said Peca.

"It was a balanced attack and in today's game, a balanced attack is what you need."

If that happens, the fans will love this team. If it doesn't, they'll let their feelings be known. That's the thing about coming to a city that lives and dies with its team.

"I'm interested in what the fans think," offered Peca, although he said he doesn't let personal criticism get to him.

"I'm my biggest critic. I'll be the first one after a bad game or a string of games to say that I'm playing terrible or I'm letting everybody down."


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