This season is a case of déjà vu for Toby Petersen. He’s in the American Hockey League, surrounded by several top prospects of the Dallas Stars and is expected to play a key leadership role.
“It’s odd how things kind of come full circle,” Petersen said. “It’s a role I am familiar with, so we’ll see where it will take me.”
It’s a role he played when Dallas was stockpiling the Iowa Stars with young talent starting with the 2005-06 season. Petersen was with the Edmonton organization back then, and the Oilers were sending players to Iowa as well. Petersen spent time in Iowa for two seasons as an Oiler before the Stars signed him to a contract for the 2007-08 season.
Among the players who passed through Iowa during Petersen’s tenure were Loui Eriksson, James Neal, Mike Smith, Nicklas Grossmann, Mark Fistric, B.J. Crombeen and Tom Wandell.
“He helped a lot of guys that are Dallas Stars and other players that are in the NHL get there and have some success,” said Texas General Manager Scott White. “Hopefully, he’ll do the same here.”
And Petersen continued to provide some guidance in the NHL. It wasn’t unusual to see those former Iowa players gravitating towards Petersen when they all were in the NHL playing for the Dallas Stars. At one time, several sat near Petersen in a corner of the Dallas locker room. And even as those players turned into NHL veterans, Petersen continued to guide younger players. He was the road roommate for Jamie Benn, so it’s a role that seems a perfect fit for the veteran forward, who will turn 34 on Saturday.
“As far as a role model in Dallas, he was outstanding,” said Texas coach Willie Desjardins, who spent two years as an associate coach in Dallas. “And he’s outstanding here.”
This time around, Petersen is providing guidance for top Dallas prospects like Jack Campbell, Jamie Oleksiak, Patrik Nemeth, Alex Chiasson, Reilly Smith and other young players on the Texas roster.
“He’s a quality player and a quality individual,” said White. “He’s a good leader. He does things the right way both on and off the ice. He’ll certainly help our young players move along.”
Petersen’s contributions go beyond hockey. He’s been involved in charity work throughout his hockey career, and he and his wife, Alexa, were recently named to the board of directors of the Texas Stars Foundation. It’s just another way Petersen serves as a role model.
But for Petersen, who has played 840 professional games, including 397 in the NHL, the ideal place to serve as a role model is on the ice.
“The best way I can help out as a leader is to perform and contribute out on the ice. That’s my main goal here,” Petersen said. “The off-ice stuff will come. That’s part of what I do. But the best thing I can do is go out there and contribute.”
There are other goals for Petersen, including bouncing back from what was a tough 2011-12 season. He played in just eight of Dallas’ final 35 games. For the season he suited up in 39 contests, registering two goals and three assists.
“It is what it is,” Petersen said. “Decisions are made for a reason and I respect the decisions they made. I’m sure a lot of thought went it to, but there was a lot of watching.”
Even though he didn’t play much over the final part of the season, Dallas re-signed him to a two-year, two-way contract and playing that leadership role in the AHL was a big reason why. It’s a role he relishes, and he’s also expected to be a key player for Texas. Petersen is looking forward to the chance, and he’s hoping to make the most of it.
“This is a good opportunity for me to get my game back,” Petersen said, “and to try to get back to where I want to be, which is the NHL.”