Like many kids growing up in the northeastern United States, Nick Petrecki got his formal introduction to hockey early on from a eager set of parents who loved the sport. Being a former collegiate player himself at Babson College in Boston, Massachusetts, his father Mark would go on to play the role of chief facilitator. At home, Mark would build him a rink on the side of the house so he could teach him about the game. Then there were times when he would take his young study down the road the local pond for some pickup hockey.
As Petrecki continued to grow, he would go on to play with Clifton Park Youth Hockey. For his peewee and bantam years, he played in the Albany area. He finally hit the map when he suited up for Jim Salfi and the Capital District Selects in the EJHL. Playing with some older and craftier kids was not a problem. As he grew into his adult frame at 15 years old, he was able to handle his own. It was then, when Petrecki caught the attention from many of the people around the development and professional circles. He has spent he past two seasons playing and developing under head Coach Mike Hastings with the Omaha Lancers in the USHL.
The NHL’s Central Scouting Bureau regards the Clifton Park native as the top defenseman coming out of his league this year. After a brief stop in Columbus this weekend for the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, Petrecki is off to play for Jerry York and Boston College in the fall.
Hockey’s Future caught up with the USHL’s top rearguard as he enjoyed some free time back at home. We spoke about development over the years, his experiences playing with the Lancers, his game, and his future.
HF: Did you have to overcome any sort of obstacles as you were trying to find your way as a player or did it come natural to you?
NP: It pretty much came natural to me. I worked hard at it and I had a great base with both my parents being involved with what I did. My dad influenced me a lot. He kept on telling me that if I worked hard, good things would happen for me.
HF: When did you know you could make a serious run and making hockey a career?
NP: I would say would the first year I played for Coach Salfi, which was my sophomore year in high school. I was only 15 years old and I was playing juniors for him. That sort of put me on the map when it came to colleges and NHL guys. I was in contact with them and then I decided to move out to Omaha to play in the USHL. That’s when I thought I had a good chance to go further with the sport.
HF: When you transitioned from league to league, what were some of the changes you noticed and how did you address them?
NP: There were times when I felt challenged, like the first year in Omaha. I was away from home for the first time, I was going to a new school and I was living with a host family for the first time. I wanted to take hockey serious and I knew those were the steps that were going to get me to the next level. As of right now, that’s worked out to my advantage.
HF: You had a chance to go play with the Plymouth Whalers in the OHL and with the U.S. NTDP. However, you passed and choose another route. How big was Boston College in the overall picture?
NP: I had a couple of options. I could play with Plymouth, I could skate with the U.S. NTDP or I could go the USHL after Omaha drafted me. I visited all three places and went to a couple games and sought out what each had to offer. I was taking it year by year.
I knew I wanted to go to B.C. because I’m an eastern kid and I’ve always been exposed to college hockey. I was always going to college games and for some time, I knew that’s where I wanted to play. I decided to go to Omaha for year, not knowing if I was going to return. I still left my options open. I fell in love with the Lancers program and everything was working out so I decided to return for my second season.
HF: How is hockey out there and how special is the Lancer program?
NP: The Lancers started in 1986 and I believe they had a winless inaugural season. They have been building every year since. The program has a lot of tradition and has had a lot of big names come through there as well as coaches.
It’s a special place. You’re not just going there as a hockey player. You’re not just coming out a hockey player. You’re going in and coming out a better person. Some programs focus solely on your development on the ice. Coach Hastings, his staff and the entire organization help both on and of the ice. I was very fortunate to be there for two years under Coach and he’s helped me out tremendously.
HF: When you’re around Coach Hastings, you know that he’s demanding, but you see the passion and drive in him. He’s comes at you from the heart because he cares. The way he is, is so infectious that it makes it hard for anyone not to like him. How much of that were you able to experience and what overall affect did he have on you both on and off the ice?
NP: As a person living away from home at 16 years old, you’re going to have some ups and downs with the whole change in scenery. He helped on that end and even with school. He was always kept a positive attitude and he was looking on the bright side of things.
On the ice, I really feel that he’s turned me into the player I am today. He helped me focus on not trying to do too much. I learned that I played my best hockey when I kept things simple. He even spent the time to show the little basic things that I really never knew about.
HF: Looking back, what were your first impressions coming and what are they now?
NP: I have never been in a structured program like that before. Especially the high-tempo practices he runs. That was a big change for me. Once I got adapted to it, it helped me out a lot because you’re skating with 20-22 guys who are all at that top level. Playing 60-65 games with the rigors of travel, going to school and all that it takes, it helped me out both on and off the ice.
HF: At what point in your first season did you feel as if you comfortable playing out there?
NP: I settled in halfway through my first year. I got a chance to play the regular season games as well as in the playoffs. I was given a great opportunity for me. I was able to see what else was out there at this level of hockey. I knew I could play there and I got a good opportunity. In my second season, I got bigger opportunities and it turned out to be a great time.
HF: You’re heading into draft weekend as the top defenseman coming out of the USHL. What did it take for you to get there?
NP: It’s a cliché, but hard work. I’m in the gym every day. I’m working on things before and after practice. I bring a lot of energy to the rink and I love what I do. I hopefully want to make a job out of doing this because I love the sport. Again, Coach Hastings gave me the opportunities and helped me out a lot. His assistant coaches over the past two years were great too. When you look at it all, I think the opportunity I got from Coach and because I ran with it and worked hard every day has helped me develop into the player I am today.
HF: Being it was your draft year, did it change anything in your approach this past season?
NP: To be honest, I really haven’t thought about the draft up until about a month or so ago. I wouldn’t say it changed my approach, where it was more about what could I do to help the Lancers and help us succeed as a team and as an organization. I was more focused on keeping the game simple, and not forcing stuff. Having that mindset has helped me both offensively and defensively. But overall, it was what was about the team first.
HF: You were also named to the Top Prospects/All Star game this past season. What was that like?
NP: I was excited and honored to play in such a big-time game like that with all the top talent. From the skills competition to just meeting the guys you compete against all the time was just fun. My parents and my grandmother also came in for that and together; it made for a very special weekend.
HF: Some of the scouting reports peg you as a defensive-defenseman, while other say your going to be a better all-around blueliner. Having said that, there was an increase in your offensive production this season compared to last. What contributed to it?
NP: I knew my offensive side was always there. I think it has more to do with making the transition and gaining my confidence at this level. I started the season off slow, but when I came back from Christmas break, things just picked up. Once I had the momentum and confidence, I just started building off that.
HF: If I’m a GM or a scout, what am I going to see you bring to the table every night?
NP: I’m big kid and I think it’s going to be hard to miss me from that aspect. I like to push my weight around and use my size. I believe I’m a pretty good skater for my build. I’m nothing really flashy but you can use me in all situations both offensively and defensively. I can play the power play, penalty-kill, and I like to can get down and block shoots. Again, nothing really flashy, but I feel I’m a solid two-way defenseman.
HF: What are some things you would like to work on?
NP: I want to keep working on my defensive and offensive game. I love to work hard on both ends of the ice so I would like to focus on my decision making while I’m working in the zones.
HF: How does it feel when you’re on top of your game?
NP: I look at things with a more focus. I also focus on not getting too high or too low. It’s about keeping that equilibrium there and letting the play come to me.
HF: Going into the draft, once you get selected, does anything change?
NP: Yeah, there will probably be a little more excitement. I’m sure it won’t hit until I get there. I’m living a normal college kid’s life right now. It’s probably not going to hit me until it happens.
HF: What does it feel like to be a step closer to your dream?
NP: All of this really hasn’t set in. I went to a [Red] Sox game a couple nights ago and I’ve been hanging out with my buddies. It’s really normal right now but I can imagine I’ll be feeling on top of the world next weekend.
HF: After the draft, your next big hurdle is playing for the Eagles at Boston College. What’s it going to take for you to continue to develop and be successful at the next level?
NP: It’s a new part in my life. It’s kind of like the time when I left the EJHL to go play for the Lancers. It’s all relatively new, but on the ice, I want to make it hard for Coach York and his staff to take me out of the lineup. I‘m going to do that by working my butt off and continually making it hard for him to put me in the stands. I want him to keep me in the lineup every night. That’s my job as a player and a student-athlete to do that.
Copyright 2007 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.