Eric and Jordan Staal occasionally take a peek at the Ontario Hockey League standings and they don't like what they see these days.
Their old junior club, the Peterborough Petes, uncharacteristically has been mired in a three-season slump. Unless the Petes can overcome a six-point deficit to the Kingston Frontenacs in the final 17 games of this season, they will miss the playoffs for a third straight time after missing three times in their first 54 years of existence.
The current funk has been difficult to take for the hockey-mad town of Peterborough, Ontario, the central site for Hockey Day in Canada on Saturday.
"For sure, it has been disappointing to see what has happened there. It's such a storied franchise," said Eric Staal said, who along with his brother scored in the Carolina Hurricanes’ 4-1 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre on Monday night.
"One thing that seemed certain when I played there and my brother played there was that the Petes would contend every season," Eric added. "But I understand the organization is trying hard to make some changes. Hopefully, better times are ahead."
The Peterborough TPTs (the junior team's original name because the company that sponsored it was called Toronto Peterborough Transportation) were born in 1956 when the Kitchener Greenshirts moved east to the Central Ontario town.
The list of those who have played for the Petes is impressive.
Bob Gainey, Keith Acton, Bob Berry, Bill and Barclay Plager, Doug Jarvis, Colin Campbell, John Garrett, Mickey and Dick Redmond, Greg Millen, Dave Reid, Larry Murphy, Dallas Eakins, Luke Richardson, Bob Errey, Steve Yzerman, Mike Ricci, Chris Pronger, Cameron Mann, Cory Stillman, Jamie Langenbrunner, the Staal brothers and Zach Bogosian are just a few.
The coaching list also is impressive: Scotty Bowman, Roger Neilson, Mike Keenan, Gary Green and Dick Todd.
In total, the Petes have put more than 150 players into the NHL. Wayne Gretzky played three games for Peterborough as a 15-year-old. My favorite, Steve Larmer, played a full season for his hometown as a 16-year-old before he was drafted by the Niagara Falls Flyers.
"It's inspiring when you see all the names who played for the Petes," said Jordan Staal, who played on the Petes' last OHL championship team in 2005-06. "You don't want to let the organization or the fans down. You know what they expect because of their history."
The Petes have won a record nine OHL titles, made a record nine visits to the Memorial Cup tournament, and advanced a record six times to the Memorial Cup final. Peterborough has celebrated one Memorial Cup championship, in 1979.
This season hit rock bottom in December when general manager Dave Reid and coach Mike Pelino were fired as general manager and coach. The Petes have improved slightly under interim GM Mike Oke and interim coach Jody Hull, who played four seasons for the Petes in the mid-1980s. They have gone 8-5-3 since Hull took over.
The Petes also lured former captain Dave Lorentz as a board member. Now the principal at Lakefield and District Secondary School, Lorentz was part of the 1989 OHL championship team and is a respected member of the community.
So maybe the Petes are on the right track to restoring the storied franchise. The Staals certainly hope so.
"When I went to Peterborough [for the 2000-01 season] it was my first time away from home," said Eric, a Thunder Bay, Ontario, native. "My parents were comfortable with the situation. I couldn't think of a better place to prepare myself for the NHL.
"[Petes GM] Jeff Twohey was great. My billets were great. The people in the city were so supportive and kind. I have nothing but fond memories of that place and, for me, it's neat to hear that Peterborough will be celebrated on Hockey Day in Canada."
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