Peca eager to return

Toronto Maple Leafs forward Mike Peca (right) had no desire to miss practice after taking a puck in...

Toronto Maple Leafs forward Mike Peca (right) had no desire to miss practice after taking a puck in the face on Saturday against the Montreal Canadiens. (Toronto Sun File/Craig Robertson)

TERRY KOSHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:40 AM ET

Had he asked for it, Michael Peca probably would have been granted yesterday off to let his sore and stitched mouth heal.

But after taking a puck in the face in the second period of a 5-1 win against the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday night -- an accident that caused the Maple Leafs centre to miss the rest of the game -- Peca had no desire to miss practice.

Whether it's taking a crucial faceoff late in the game, spearheading a penalty kill or speaking his mind in the dressing room, Peca quickly has become an integral force with the Leafs.

"I'm having as much fun playing the game as I ever have in my career," Peca said. "Toronto is a city I wanted to play in for the main reason that hockey is the main priority."

Peca, who signed a one-year, $2.5-million US deal with the Leafs last summer, won't remember much of his one season with the Edmonton Oilers. The 32-year-old said he never really did feel comfortable in the Oilers dressing room. That's not the case in his hometown.

"This year I came in and I was more comfortable right from the start with the coaching staff and the players, and I wanted to assert myself," Peca said. "This has been more natural for me. As far as how I am viewed, I never really think about it. I just hope there is a positive response."

Peca has no worries there. Leafs veterans and youngsters alike find him easy to respect. With his manner on and off the ice, Peca is like another captain.

"You feel his presence in the room," third-year centre Matt Stajan said. "He is vocal, but he does not overdo it. When he talks, you listen. He has been a great addition to this hockey club, especially with all the young guys we have."

Said Bryan McCabe: "Just the little things he does, guys recognize. He has a calming influence on everyone."

Even if Peca didn't score another goal this season, his value would not diminish. He is a main reason the Leafs' penalty killing has improved to ninth overall (before yesterday's games) after it was 24th last season. Peca has a reputation as a warrior in his NHL career, which sits at 711 games. He even looks the part, with his playoff beard and gaunt appearance that is reminiscent of Doug Gilmour in his heyday with the Leafs.

Playing at home has been good for Peca's approach at the rink.

"I think it has to do with that quite a bit, being in the city you grew up in," Peca said. "When the family likes it as much as I do, it makes the experience more enjoyable."


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