MONTREAL - After signing a two-year contract on Canada Day, we caught up with forward Matthew Peca, who is eager to make his mark with the Habs.
How would you assess the importance of the upcoming season, in particular? How excited are you to prove yourself at the NHL level?
MATTHEW PECA: I'm really focused on having a good camp. I'm more focused than I've ever been. It's going to be a big year to prove myself individually, kind of get my foot in the door and hopefully play a lot of NHL games. But, it's also a big season for the Canadiens organization. I'm looking to be a part of the team, and I'm hoping that I can help them be successful this season.
You're coming off another strong season with the AHL's Syracuse Crunch. How much confidence are you taking from last season into this year to really get yourself off to the best start possible?
MP: I'm feeling very confident. A good start is very important. I wasn't really happy with my start last season. But, I thought I progressed as the year went on. I thought I became a little bit more responsible and became more of an offensive threat as the year went on. I'm very happy with how I finished the season and where my game was at in the playoffs, so I'm looking forward to building off of that.
What is going to be the key for you to take your game to the next level?
MP: Just being a complete player. You're playing against the best players in the world. If you're put in a position to score, you need to finish your chances. You need to contribute both offensively and defensively. I'm always taking pride in my faceoffs, so I like to help out the team in that regard. It's going to be all the little things that keep you in the lineup.
What did you take away from your time in the Tampa Bay Lightning organization that really prepared you to seize this chance with the Canadiens?
MP: I think it was a little bit of the time I spent in the NHL. I thought I played really well. I was comfortable with the way I was playing, but you also realize how much more there is to go, how much better you need to be in order to be a consistent player. I think in my time with Tampa Bay, I learned a lot playing with those guys and watching those players. Just being a pro and playing the pro game are the biggest takeaways I have from that organization.
Tell us a little bit about your training so far this summer in Arnprior, ON.
MP: The summers for me are a good refresher to work on my skating. I take a lot of pride in my skating and being as efficient as possible, so I usually head back to the drawing board and really get in tune with my body and my stride. As the summer comes to an end, I start doing more and more conditioning work on the ice. I kind of want to be ahead of the pack, in that regard. That's what I focus on the most. I train with Pro Skaters Inc. with Lucas Lawson. He's my skating coach. Luke Homer is putting me through my weightlifting program. We've got a good group of guys from the Ottawa Valley.
Is there one area, in particular, that you're really emphasizing training-wise?
MP: Strength. I played at 175 pounds last season. I'd like to maybe play 10 pounds heavier, maybe closer to 190 just to have a little bit more of a base of strength and have an edge in the corners. Explosiveness, too. That's where the game is at now. You need to be strong on the puck, you need to be able to get out of tight areas fast. That's really been by focus.
What do you plan on bringing to the Canadiens?
MP: A lot of speed and a lot of skill. I consider myself a very good two-way player, somebody who can play in all situations and all positions, if need be. I mentioned taking a lot of pride in winning faceoffs, but I also take a lot of pride in blocking shots and playing against the others team's best players. I'm just looking forward to being thrown into the mix and hopefully having a lot of opportunity. I'm pretty confident that I can help the team win. I think I'm at that point in my career where I need to make a statement with my game. It's the biggest contract I've signed to date, so I have a lot to prove and I understand that. I know there's going to be a lot of internal competition, but that brings out the best in players.
You've never had a chance to play at the Bell Centre, so what do you imagine that first experience being like?
MP: I can't even imagine what it's going to be like. I can't really put expectations on it. I'm just looking forward to taking this all in stride and hopefully not getting too nervous. (Laughs) I'm sure it's going to be pretty special.