In the world of professional hockey, life can change faster than the drop of a puck. One minute you’re about to grab lunch with a few minor league teammates and the next you’re being rushed out the door to chase your NHL dream.
Derek Peltier was still sitting in his seat, just trying to bask in the news of being called up to play in his first NHL game for the Colorado Avalanche against his hometown team, the Minnesota Wild. After leading all Lake Erie Monsters’ defensemen with 19 points, he was going to get a shot at the big leagues.
All it took was the sound of Lake Erie general manager David Oliver’s urgent tone to make him spring into action.
“He told me, ‘Your flight leaves in an hour,’ ” Peltier recalls.
“ ‘Go home, put a suit on. I’ll be at your apartment in five minutes. We have to get your gear to the airport within the next 20 or 30 minutes to get it on the plane.’ ”
Everything had come as a complete shock. With Mike Vernace getting called up the day before, Peltier figured the Avs were set on defensemen. Because Ruslan Salei and Daniel Tjarnqvist had both been added to Colorado’s laundry list of injured players, the Avalanche made a game day decision to bring Peltier up as well.
He made a couple important phone calls on his way to the airport, the first to his dad and the second to his girlfriend, in hopes they could make it to his NHL debut. Still in a bit of shock from the news and the flurry of events that followed, the Plymouth, Minn., native didn’t get to think twice about the game until he stepped on his flight to Minneapolis.
“It was nice when I finally got on the plane,” he says. “Then I could just kind of relax and not worry about talking or people calling me. I finally got to soak it in for a little bit.”
Having calmed down on the flight, Peltier’s rollercoaster day took him on another loop as he grabbed his gear and headed to the Xcel Energy Center. This trip to the rink he’d come to know so well as a Wild fan and as a player at the University of Minnesota, was now uncharted territory and Peltier felt his nerves flare up once again.
“As soon as I walked into the locker room, all the guys came up and introduced themselves and told me what to expect,” Peltier says. “They told me to just relax and enjoy it, which definitely helped me calm down a little bit. They go out of their way to make you feel comfortable.”
With a large support group of friends and family in attendance, Peltier, paired with Lake Erie teammate Vernace on the blueline, skated 18 shifts in the 3-2 shootout loss, and recorded a plus-1 rating in just over 11 minutes of ice time.
“I’ve always wanted to play in the NHL,” he says. “It was definitely everything and more than I could have ever expected. Just being on the bench and looking around and there are guys who have been in the NHL for 15 years that are standing right next to me. It was pretty surreal. I don’t want it to end.”
When he wasn’t sent back down to Lake Erie following the Minnesota game, Peltier had to make a trip to the store to buy a few essentials: toothbrush, clothes, and other stuff he didn’t know he would need for what has now become a longer visit than originally thought.
Almost nothing is certain in professional sports and Peltier, along with the Avs’ other recent call-ups, live a day-to-day, hour-to-hour lifestyle from a hotel in Denver.
“I’m just taking it day by day,” admits Peltier, who was back in the lineup two nights later against Edmonton. “I really don’t know how long I’ll be here. I’m just enjoying it while I can.”