When he was younger, Quinnipiac Bobcats forward Matthew Peca frequently was asked if he was related to former NHLer Michael Peca.
Like the older Peca, the 5-foot-9, 165-pound Matthew is undersized. He also exhibits that determined game that enabled Michael to enjoy a fruitful 13-season NHL career.
But Matthew Peca, who turns 20 on Apr. 27, has played well enough and won enough in his young career to distinguish himself. He will lead No. 1-ranked Quinnipiac into the 2013 NCAA Frozen Four, which begins with semifinal action on Thursday in Pittsburgh.
"I used to get asked if I was related to [Michael Peca] all the time, but not too often anymore," said Matthew Peca, a Tampa Bay Lightning draft pick.
"I loved watching him play."
Caught Yzerman's eye
About the time Ginette and Frank Peca welcomed their second son (Matthew has an older brother Steven and a sister Katrina) into their Petawawa, Ont., home 20 years ago, Michael Peca completed his second season of junior with the nearby Ottawa 67's.
It wasn't long before Matthew took up hockey and began to root for his beloved Toronto Maple Leafs because that was the team Steven supported. It simply was a bonus that Michael Peca played one of his final seasons in the NHL with the 2006-07 Maple Leafs.
It was about that time Matthew Peca became a force on the local hockey scene. Two years ago, he helped steer the nearby Pembroke Lumber Kings to the RBC Cup Junior A national championship. He was named the tournament's top forward under the tutelage of his Lumber Kings coach, Sheldon Keefe, a former Lightning forward who has gone on become the head coach of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.
"Sheldon was instrumental in my development," Matthew Peca said. "To be able to learn under a former NHL player has helped so much."
Chris Yzerman certainly noticed Peca's impressive play that season. Yzerman, the younger brother of Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman, is a part-time scout for Tampa Bay and recommended that the Lightning select Peca.
He was chosen in the seventh round (201st overall) with the 11th-last selection of the 2011 NHL entry draft. About a week after the draft, Peca showed his future employers just what type of person they were getting.
With some of his fellow students at Jeanne-Lajoie High School in Pembroke, Peca went on a humanitarian trip to the Dominican Republic, where he painted houses, visited orphanages and performed other charitable acts.
"It was an important trip in my life," he said. "It's important to give back. I've been so fortunate in my life and to help out other kids was something I will never forget."
Time to bulk up
When he returned from the Dominican Republic, Peca attended the Lightning's prospect camp and then had to make an important decision. Should he honour his commitment to Quinnipiac or join the Kingston Frontenacs of the OHL?
"It was a tough decision. Ultimately, I decided on the scholarship because there is life after hockey," said Peca, a business major. "I couldn't pass that up."
Plus, U.S. colleges primarily schedule weekend games, allowing Peca more time in the weight room between games to get stronger. He estimates he's added 20 pounds to his frame in his two years at Quinnipiac.
On the ice, he won conference rookie-of-the-year honours last season. This year, on a team that has 11 seniors and is built around Hobey Baker candidate goalie Eric Hartzell, Peca tied for Bobcats' points lead with 15 goals and 30 points in 37 games.
In Quinnipiac's regional final on Mar. 31, playing alongside Montrose, B.C., twins Connor and Kellen Jones, Peca scored a hat trick in a tournament-record three minutes and 12 seconds and was named regional MVP.
"It's been an awesome ride that isn't over," Peca said.
Quinnipiac will meet St. Cloud State in one Frozen Four semifinal on Thursday. Yale and UMass-Lowell will clash in the other at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh. The two winners will meet in the final on Saturday.
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