Team toughness, or a lack thereof, seemingly has played a role in the Buffalo Sabres’ fall from playoff contention this season. A steady exodus of gritty players, including the likes of Mike Peca and Doug Gilmour, has left the Buffalo lineup a little short of the spirit and leadership necessary for success in the NHL.
While Buffalo may not have many prospects that have the combination of skill and grit found in players like Peca and Gilmour, they do have youngsters in the organization that could provide enough toughness to keep Buffalo’s opponents on edge in the years to come. One of those prospects, LW Andrew Peters, is currently filling the role of enforcer for the Rochester Americans of the AHL.
Peters was the first of three 2nd round picks the Sabres made in the ’98 NHL Draft, where he was drafted with the pick acquired in the deal that sent Pat Lafontaine to the New York Rangers. Andrew spent most of his junior career with the OHL’s Oshawa Generals, but was moved to the Kitchener Rangers during his final junior season following a dispute with then-Oshawa coach George Burnett.
Peters’ main claim to fame in juniors was his fighting ability, as he amassed 452 penalty minutes in his 3-year OHL career. Andrew also showed flashes of skill during his draft year, but that part of his game has gone largely unfulfilled since that time. The St. Catherines native saw limited ice time during his first season with Rochester, but has steadily played a larger role this season, flashing the pugilistic skills that made Peters a fan favorite in the OHL. His brother Geoff, who spent some of his OHL career with the Niagara Falls Thunder, recently joined Andrew on the Amerks roster.
I spoke with Andrew following a recent Amerks practice, a conversation which is presented in the transcript below. My questions are designated with "HF", while the initials "AP" represent Andrew’s answers.
HF: You’re in your 2nd season in the AHL. What are your thoughts on playing the pro game, so far?
AP: It’s a big step coming out of juniors; I battle every night to stay in the lineup. We had an unbelievable team last year, so it was tough to crack that lineup every night as a 20 year-old. This year, my 2nd year, I’ve got a little more experience, but I still have to work hard to stay in the lineup.
HF: Now, your role seems to be as the enforcer for the team. Is that a role you expected to be playing coming into the pro game, or did you have something else in mind?
AP: I knew that I’d have to fight. Along with that, I try not to take any crap from anyone. We lost a couple tough guys last year in Craig Brunel and Sasha Lakovic, and I was ready to step up and fill that void.
HF: Did the Sabres’ coaches give you any instructions as to what you needed to work on before they sent you to Rochester?
AP: Yeah, well, my game is pretty simple- get the puck out, get it in deep, and forecheck. If I do those things well, I’ll get a shot to play at the next level. Right now, I have to continue to work hard so that the coaches have a reason to bring me up.
HF: Going back to your junior career, you played mostly in Oshawa. You held out your last season in Oshawa- what happened that made you decide that you didn’t want to play there anymore?
AP: I felt like I wasn’t really developing there. It was the 2nd year after my being drafted, and, with the OHL being a development league, you tend to get more ice time as you get older. It didn’t sound like that would be happening in my case, though. But mostly, it was the atmosphere- I needed a new place to play. I had nothing against the Oshawa Generals- I loved the organization, I loved the owner, Mr. Humphries, and the GM. I don’t think the coach really understood my situation. I think I wanted to learn, and was anxious to learn, but I guess he didn’t feel that I was capable of being on the ice a lot. But, whatever- so many excuses, so many different thoughts, and my feelings go a lot deeper than that. So, I asked for a trade. I wasn’t prepared to go back and get sucked into the same situation. Then I was traded to Kitchener, where I had my broken hand and bad back, but other than that, Kitchener was a great situation for me. I played a ton, and I learned a lot from the coaching there. They gave me every opportunity- power play, penalty kills – just to learn my game, and it just put me in a bigger role.
HF: It’s basically what you wanted to do in Oshawa, but they didn’t really give you the opportunity…
AP: Yeah, I just did what I felt was best for me, and for my career.
HF: You were chosen in the 2nd round of the ’98 NHL Draft. What was it like to have your name called that early in the draft?
AP: I think I met with every team in the NHL, because I was rated anywhere from the 1st to the 3rd round, so any team could have had a shot at me. It’s weird, because I’m from St. Catherines, and the draft was held in Buffalo; Ontario is just across the river, and I have family in Rochester. I met with Buffalo 2 or 3 times before the draft, and I was sort of hoping they’d pick me. But I was just happy to be drafted. It’s not a situation where you say "I want to go here" or "I want to go there", because you go where you were picked. But I was really happy to be drafted by Buffalo.
HF: Were you a Sabres fan growing up?
AP: Yes, yes I was, absolutely! (Pat) Lafontaine and (Alex) Mogilny, that was my time. I really liked the Sabres growing up, and it was just unbelievable to be drafted by them.
HF: How do you feel about Rochester’s chances going into the playoffs?
AP: I think we have the potential in the dressing room to make a lot of noise, which is an exciting thing. Getting (into the playoffs) is hard work, but when we get there, it’s just going to get that much harder. But I believe we’ve got the guys in there, veterans and younger players, that will help us do well in the playoffs.
HF: You signed a 3-year deal, the standard contract, so next season is the final year of that deal. What are your expectations going into the next training camp?
AP: I just have to continue working hard in the summertime, and work on my conditioning. I’m not going to be looked upon to score goals and get a lot of points; obviously, whatever I get is a bonus to contribute to the team. They just want me to develop into a player that’s a pretty solid two-way player.
HF: It would seem that Rob Ray is near the end of his career. I’m not trying to retire the guy, but might that be a role you could fill to get into the NHL? Is that something you think about?
AP: No, not really. I just try and work on things here, and try not to look too far ahead. I’ve seen it before with other guys- there’s a lot of disappointment that could lie ahead, like never getting a shot, or not re-signing, different things like that. I just try and take it day-by-day and game-by-game.
HF: You mentioned Mogilny and Lafontaine- were there any other players in particular whose style of play you liked?
AP: Brad May and Matt Barnaby. I loved Matt Barnaby- he stirs the pot and backs it up. He may not win ‘em all, but he’s not afraid to stand in there and battle. He can play the game- he had that unbelievable playoff a few years ago, where he had 12 or 13 goals, the hat trick on Mother’s Day. I just loved watching him play.
HF: I’ll let you go. Andrew, I appreciate your time. Thanks, and good luck to you.
AP: Hey, anytime. Thank you.