They call it the Peterborough Mafia.
It's not a phrase you'd expect in reference to a central Ontario city with a population of fewer than 80,000 people. But in the context of hockey, the Peterborough Mafia is very real. In fact, it's a big reason the city and its team, the Peterborough Petes of the Ontario Hockey League, will be the focal point of Saturday's Hockey Day in Canada celebration, which will be broadcast by CBC across Canada as well as by the NHL Network and NHL Gamecenter in the United States.
"We are a real hockey community. The fans know their game. So no matter who you are, when you're on the ice you can't fool the fans," said Petes president Jim Devlin, who attended the team's first game as a teenager in 1956. "Sometimes they can be hard on the players, but when they give hard work and show results, those guys are gods in this town."
In a rich history spanning more than 50 years, a lot of those players have gone on to conquer the hockey world outside Peterborough. Established as a farm team for the Montreal Canadiens, the longest continuously operating junior hockey team in Canada has graduated more than 150 players to the NHL, more than any junior team.
That includes the names Redmond, Gainey, Yzerman, Pronger and Staal. Wayne Gretzky played three games for the Petes as a 16-year-old. Even less-prominent Peterborough alums have gone on to enjoy lengthy NHL careers.
The longevity is a trademark many former Petes attribute to a coaching lineage passed down from Scotty Bowman to Roger Neilson to Gary Green to Mike Keenan to Dick Todd, the former New York Rangers assistant who coached for 15 seasons in Peterborough and won 500 games faster than any coach in Major Junior A history.
Kris King, a Petes alum who played for Todd prior to 849 NHL games, serves as the League's vice president of hockey operations.