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Peterson Continues to Raise Awareness, Funds to Fight Parkinson's

Former Associate Head Coach's Foundation Has Raised Over $700,000 Through Petey's Party

by John Glennon @glennonsports / NashvillePredators.com

In the perfect-life plan that exists in the back of all of our minds, Brent Peterson envisioned himself as an NHL head coach - and a very successful one at that.

Why wouldn't he?

An 11-year NHL veteran, Peterson coached his junior team to a Memorial Cup championship in 1998, accepted an assistant coaching position with the Predators that same year, and even turned down one NHL head-coaching job a few seasons later.

When Peterson was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in 2003 - he revealed the news publicly a year later - it effectively ended his ambitions of becoming an NHL head coach.

But on the verge of his fifth annual Peterson Foundation for Parkinson's fundraising golf tournament and party, Peterson has long since come to the understanding that his purpose on the planet is not what he originally might have thought.

"I was sent here to do another job, not only to be a broadcaster or a coach or part of the organization, but to help people in Nashville understand and realize what Parkinson's is all about, the things we go through and the problems we have each day," Peterson said.

"Some days I feel great, sometimes terrible. But that's part of it, and I just have to learn how to deal with it. I always realize how lucky I am to still be alive."

It's impossible to tell the history of the Predators without listing Peterson's many contributions.

An assistant under former coach Barry Trotz from Year One, Peterson was promoted to associate head coach in 2003, which preceded the Predators making the playoffs in six of the next seven years. He excelled in coaching the defensive side of the game, and his specialties included the penalty-killing unit and the face-off circle.

Peterson even moved to the organization's broadcast booth after leaving coaching, dispensing his wisdom as the team's radio analyst for the last several years.

But those who've known Peterson the longest are less likely to talk about his on-ice expertise as they are to tout his skills as a relationship builder, his passion for the game and his character as a person.

Trotz, for instance, still holds true to a simple piece of advice that Peterson once offered him, when he was wondering the course of action he'd take to deal with an off-ice situation.

"Brent said to me, `You know what? Just do what's right,'" Trotz said. "That always stuck with me. I think that's what Brent always did - he just did what was right. I will tell every young coach those words of advice from Brent. You're going to have to make some tough decisions on what you do in this business. Just do what's right.

"You might get criticized by people. People may not agree or understand it. You may take some heat for it, but you will know inside that you did the right thing. Brent said, `That's all that really matters.' So he is wise. He's been a good coach and a great friend."

Predators general manager David Poile recalls Peterson being the perfect choice to fly to Wisconsin during the 2006 season, in order to spend some time with defenseman Ryan Suter.

A 2003 first-round pick, Suter had put together a very good rookie season that year, but the then-20-year-old had been frustrated when he was a healthy scratch during the playoffs. The organization hoped Peterson's personal visit could help Suter understand the growth and maturation he needed in order to improve.

"I think the time he went up there, and the time he spent on Ryan's home turf, went a long way toward evening Ryan Suter out," Poile said. "It helped in terms of what (Suter's) role should be as a player, what he should be saying to the players and coaches in his communication, and eventually his growth as becoming a leader and one of the best players in the game."

What makes Peterson such an effective communicator?

"I think when you talk to Brent, it's the passion he talks with," Poile said. "It's hard not to get a little emotional when you talk to him and get in discussions with him because of his care level. So I'm sure when he talked to Ryan Suter, it came across how very much he cared about him."

Peterson underwent a well-publicized, deep-brain-stimulation surgery in 2011, one that greatly lessened many of the Parkinson's symptoms. In the years since then, his clenched right fist has relaxed, his gait has loosened and his mobility has increased. Peterson takes only a handful of pills each day, down from about 25 pre-surgery.

The Calgary, Alberta, native may not be able to skate anymore, but he's still a regular on the golf course - even if his balance occasionally betrays him. His love for golf is one of the reasons Peterson's annual fundraising event is centered on the links.

He estimates that over the years, Petey's Preds Party and the Predators Brent Peterson Celebrity Golf Classic have raised about $700,000 to help fight Parkinson's.

There are still times, Peterson acknowledges, that he finds himself sad or angry about his coaching career coming to an earlier end than he wished.

"I think I would have been a really good head coach," Peterson said. "I have a great attitude for the game, a good feel for the game. I don't need papers to tell me who should be on the ice. I know who my players are, I know what makes them tick. I know how to motivate."

But Peterson seems to have channeled much of that famous passion into battling Parkinson's. In the same way Peterson has seen his own life improve, he wants the same for others.

"With my last breath and my last step, I promise I will continue to help raise money for Parkinson's patients who live each and every day with this disease," Peterson said on his foundation's website. "I will also raise money for research and for the caregivers, and do anything I can with the fight against this terrible disease."

   --   Reach John Glennon at glennonsports@gmail.com

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