The Summer of T-Birds: A Chat w/ Matthew PecaAug 21, 2023
Voice of the T-Birds Ryan Smith will be checking in periodically with some of your favorite players throughout the summer months in a series called The Summer of T-Birds.
In this installment, Ryan is chatting with Matthew Peca, who is embarking on his ninth professional season and third in the Blues organization. After missing about half of the 2022-23 season recovering from surgery, he talks about his excitement to be 100% heading into the new campaign, as well as some other big dates on the horizon.
Questions and answers have occasionally been edited for clarity.
RS: Walk us through what you’ve been up to this summer!
MP: This summer has been a little different because I’m getting married in September, so it has been a lot of wedding planning; it has basically taken up my spare time. I’ve spent a little bit of time in Springfield getting the house ready for the season. I’m trying to do my best to make it accommodating to host the guys and do fun stuff at the house during the season this year, so I’m working on a few projects, be it building a deck, finishing the patio, stuff like that. But that’s kind of been put to the side because the wedding has prioritized most of the spare time.
Otherwise, being so far away from family during the season, I do everything I can to see them. I’ve got an older brother who’s got two kids, my sister has three kids, so a lot of my summer has been spent hanging out with them. I do try and golf as much as I can; I’ve gotten maybe 10-12 rounds in. I was worried I was going to spread myself a little too thin trying to do too much, but summer has been a blast.
RS: You mentioned playing the role of uncle. Do you pride yourself on being the fun uncle with your nieces and nephews?
MP: Yeah, I try. I don’t get to see them as much as I would like because of the season, so when I do see them, I try to be as present as possible and play with them as much as I can. I’m always the adult who doesn’t seem to be in the room anymore because I’m always downstairs playing with the kids. Everybody’s like “Where the heck did Matthew go?”
RS: Relegated to the kids' table and kids' room?
RS: Back to hockey – Tommy Cross announced his retirement, and you had a chance to play under his wing the last two seasons. Throughout your career, you’ve been matched up against him a bunch as well. When you look back at Tommy’s career as a teammate and as an opponent, what qualities come to mind?
MP: He’s the ultimate pro. I think it’s important for a leadership group not to get too high or too low. He always seemed to have the answer emotionally for different situations. If things weren’t going well, he was the guy that would calm everybody down. If things were going great, he wasn’t looking ahead or getting too excited. He always seemed like he had an even-keeled approach to how we needed to play. He was our rock, even when he wasn’t in the lineup. If things weren’t going well when he wasn’t in the lineup, a lot of our questions and concerns still ran through him. I didn’t even mention yet how great he was on the ice for us as a steady defenseman who could contribute offensively. He’s very well respected around our team and the league and should be very proud of his career and all that he accomplished. He will be missed big time.
RS: I have to imagine in the back of your mind there may be a thought about who will wear the “C” next for the T-Birds. Is it something you set as a goal for yourself, or do you try to just let happen organically?
MP: I think everybody would give you the same answer that you don’t necessarily want to seek out being a leader. You kind of just want to model your game correctly and do the right things, and if your teammates so happen to consider you as a leader, then that’s a win. I think it has to come from within the group. I don’t think you can fake being a leader. If you put too much emphasis on trying to be someone that you’re not and change who you are and change your approach to things just to get a letter on your jersey, I don’t think that’s the right approach. For me, I’m not going to change a thing. I’m going to try to lead by example; I’ve always been a quieter guy in the locker room, so if (I were to become the captain), I would be a completely different captain than Tommy was, but (being a captain) should not be something that changes you.
RS: As upsetting as it was to not be able to go on a long postseason run this year, you did have to miss half of the season recovering from the wear and tear of the Calder Cup Finals run in 2022. Is it a pro vs. con situation where it hurts to be knocked out, but at the same time, the group should be fresher come October?
MP: There’s a silver lining with everything. You can’t trade that experience of going far (in the playoffs) for anything. Players should want to go through that, and if you injure yourself along the way, that’s just the game. In the back of my mind, there definitely is the thought that it would be nice to get back to the strength I used to have. You have to roll with the punches and see the positive in everything. I think I’ve done that this summer; I’m in the best shape I’ve been in for a while, I’m healthy, and I’m excited to hit the ground running.
RS: Everyone wants to be the one holding up the trophy at the end, and it stinks when it isn’t you. But seeing Sam Anas win the Calder Cup with Hershey, and seeing your guys’ alma mater Quinnipiac win the national championship, how cool was it to see those?
MP: I think it’s a collegiate thing where there was no sense of jealousy or anything to watch those guys win. I know what’s gone into the (QU) program, what we poured into it, and what guys after us did. A couple of teams have gotten close, but to see it finally happen for the staff and players, it always meant a lot to (QU) to get a win. They had an ECAC title, which was a step in the right direction, and this was a long time coming in my opinion. In Sammy’s position, you’re cheering for individuals. I’m not happy that “Hershey” won because I obviously want that for the T-Birds, but at the end of the day, we’re all human and you can be happy for others’ individual success.