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Alumni Q&A: Pat Peake

by Mike Vogel / Washington Capitals
Pat Peake was Washington’s first-round (14th overall) in the 1991 NHL Entry Draft. He debuted with the Capitals in 1993-94 and put up a promising 11 goals and 29 points in 49 games. Injuries, illness and misfortune crept into his game over the next couple seasons, preventing Peake from reaching his potential. He was a gritty, sturdily built forward with good hands who seemed destined for some 30-goal seasons in the NHL. But a devastating heel injury suffered on a race to beat an icing call in the playoffs against Pittsburgh in 1996 eventually led to the end of his career. Peake worked doggedly to recover from that injury, but played only five NHL games after the incident. He announced his retirement on Sept. 1, 1998.

Peake came through town recently and we had an opportunity to sit down with him and discuss his days in Washington, life after hockey and his memories of the incident that ended his career.

When you were in junior hockey, you were the MVP of the league your last year in Detroit. What was that experience like?

“That was a great experience. I was only the second American ever to win the Canadian Hockey League Player of the Year Award. So that was quite an honor back then. I was looking to do bigger and better things at the NHL level but unfortunately the injuries got me, one right after another. A year ago August was my sixteenth operation on my foot alone, all from that one icing play. This is the first time I’ve been back in Washington, so I have mixed emotions.”

What were your thoughts when the Caps drafted you in the first round?

“I think it’s everyone’s childhood dream come true, to have an opportunity to play in the NHL. I was looking forward to it and gearing up. I got to work out with [then-Capitals strength and conditioning coach] Frank Costello over the summers back then, and Piney Orchard had just opened up. I love the area. It’s close to Baltimore, New York and Atlantic City. I always told my wife if we had to relocate, I’d move back here in a heartbeat. It’s come a long way. Now they’re building a new rink, and like I say, I remember when Piney Orchard was brand new. But I was very excited and I was looking forward to making a contribution. I think it was my fifth year when we got on a bit of a roll and went all the way to the finals. I was injured during that time, but it was fun.”

Your first two years you had a lot of trouble with injuries, even before the heel thing.

“Yeah, I did. I had a shoulder, a couple of concussions.”

You had mono and a fractured larynx, too.

“Yeah, [Chris] Pronger cross-checked me in the throat. I remember that now that you bring it up. I got slashed in the throat in St. Louis and had to spend four or five days there. And I had mono. I played 18 games with mono before I realized I had it. I remember Jack Button said, ‘What the hell’s that matter with you?’ I said, ‘I’m trying. I’m really trying.’ He said, ‘Well, we’re going to send you to Portland for the weekend.’ It was the first time I had been sent down. He said, ‘Go to the doctor, get your blood work, this and that, and go to Portland for the weekend and get your [act] together.’

"So I flew into Boston and caught the little puddle-jumper to Portland. I get into Portland and there’s a phone call for me. It’s Jack Button and he says, ‘Get back here. You’re in the late stages of mono, Get back here, get back home and lay in bed.’ I turned around and got on a flight and came right back. That was the lockout year. I think I played 18 games, it was just horrible.

"Even the year that I played good – I had 17 goals I think in 62 games – there was still an injury here and an injury there. I could never ever string together [a bunch of games without getting hurt]."

I seem to also remember you and Kono getting into a fender bender.

“Yeah. Kono thought he was a hot dog driving his Stealth out of USAir Arena, coming out. We T-Boned some lady. She ran a red light and boom, that was it. It took his radio off and it was another few games I missed.”

Did you drop a TV on your foot, too?

“That was during my foot rehab. I dropped it on my hand, yeah. I was just moving some stuff around the house. I was accident prone from Day One, I guess.”

Back then, that team didn’t score a lot of goals. The power play was struggling and [Capitals coach Jim Schoenfeld] was a defensive-minded coach. I remember watching you and you were one of the guys who would plant himself in front of the net and take the beating and do what it takes to score goals on the power play and at even strength. You and Andrew Brunette were the young ones coming up who would do that. Besides [Peter] Bondra, they were so desperate for goals. I thought, ‘If these two guys pan out …’

“Look what Andrew has done since then. And that’s something I have done my whole life, score goals. That was my knack, that was something I was good at and that’s something I had fun doing. Playing for Schoney, I got put into a little bit of a checking role. He moved me from center ice to the wing and this and that. You’ve just got to deal with that and work through it and try to make it happen. Unfortunately, for some reason or another, it wasn’t meant to be, I guess.”

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