At the trade deadline of my rookie year in the BCHL, the Vernon Vipers (my team) made a massive swap with the Prince George Spruce Kings. Part of the deal that came our way was Rod Pelley, the 5’11″ 200 pound forward that was just traded to the Anaheim Ducks from the New Jersey Devils.
That year in junior, Pelley was a force. He piled up 74 points in 56 games, which wasn’t too shabby for a 17 year old. It earned him a full boat scholarship to Ohio State.
Once Pelley got to college, he showed he could still pour pucks in the net, tallying 41 points in 41 games his junior year – those are impressive numbers in the CCHA. After college, he jumped into the AHL and scored 17 times in 65 games as a rookie. He also had a physical side to his game, but it was secondary to his offensive talents.
As of today, Rod has played 211 NHL hockey games. He has scored 7 times over that span, which makes up part of his 26 point career total (zeroes across the board in seven games this season).
But the thing is, Rod isn’t trying to be an offensive dynamo. Rod’s trying to stay in the NHL.
Since 2009 (and most of 07-08, part of 06-07) Rod has earned an NHL paycheck ($575,000 for 2011-12). He has been on the New Jersey Devils, in the NHL, teammates with guys like Martin Brodeur, Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise. He’s made it. He’s living the dream, off to be join Teemu Selanne, Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and Bobby Ryan.
Rod is playing the role of fourth line grinder with a focus on defense and physical play. A night where you don’t get scored on is good. A night where you do get scored on is a catastrophe. He consciously chose to play that role, because he recognized the Devils didn’t see him as a potential top-6 forward in the NHL. He had hit his ceiling.
He’s been coachable and understanding, adapting his game to the way they want him to play at the sacrifice of offensive glory, and he has been rewarded.
To many of you, that sacrifice may not sound like much of a big deal. Plenty of people are saying “I’d dump the puck in for an NHL paycheck. He’ll, I’d get kicked in the nuts once a day to play in the NHL.”
But when you’re actually on the way up and getting near that goal, it’s not as easy as it sounds. You have your pride, and you’ve earned your way to the “A.” “Maybe some other team will see me as a top-6er,” says the player entering his sixth AHL season.
There are plenty of players who wouldn’t listen, wouldn’t learn, and wouldn’t adapt who are thriving in the AHL or Europe. Guys who only know how to play one way, their way, and since it worked to get them where they are, that’s how they’re going to continue playing.
The NHL is full of the guys who changed how they play to make it, too. It must take a little pride-swallowing. But for many, it’s the difference between living the dream and living in Russia (no offense to Russians, I mean from a hockey standpoint).
It tough to be introspective enough to realize that what you’ve always done isn’t working well enough, and it’s time to adapt or accept that you’re not moving any farther up. It’s tough to do that in any career. I give a lot of credit to guys who step back from the glory-filled goal-scoring role, put on their work boots and climb the ladder. And so, I give a lot of respect to Pelley for making it.
Here’s to Rod having a successful run in Anaheim. My hunch is, even if it isn’t going well, he’ll find some way to stick around.