James Mirtle - My writing

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Enforcer keeps his gloves on in Sweden: 'I just didn't want to fight': Sabres' Peters works on finesse, but still finds penalty trouble

Tuesday, February 8, 2005
Page: S5, Section: Sports
Byline: James Mirtle
Source: National Post

When it comes to plotting the IQs of NHL players, one is tempted to place hockey's lumbering enforcers towards the low end of the curve. After all, punches to the head can hardly be beneficial to brain cells.

But if you need an example of a brain-dead punching machine, don't look to the Buffalo Sabres' Andrew Peters. In addition to being good with his fists, this lad can think.

And when Peters saw a lengthy lockout coming down the pipe this summer, he planned ahead. Rather than return to the slugfest of the American Hockey League, he signed with a Tier-2 club in Sweden.

The 6-foot-4, 250-pound Peters, a player who once racked up 388 penalty minutes in an AHL season, was going to a league without fighting.

And, thus, this enforcer's odyssey began.

Peters is playing for Bodens IK in Sweden's Allsvenskan North league with a handful of other NHLers. So far, he has played 17 games, scored two goals and picked up two assists. He has also spent more than 130 minutes in the penalty box.

But it is not his fault.

"You know when I first got here, they were really hard on me," Peters said from his home in the small northern city of Boden. "The rink is a lot bigger and the guys a lot smaller. You go out of your way to finish a check and they get you for charging, boarding, headchecking -- I don't know what the hell headchecking is, but I got a headchecking penalty.

"Then you kind of lose your cool, say something to the ref and you get a 10-minute penalty and a game misconduct. [My penalties] are mostly from blabbing back to the ref after he makes a bad call.

"They were definitely watching me."

And how could they not? The Allsvenskan North has big players, but none who match up to the 24-year-old behemoth from St. Catharines, Ont. So Peters, who came to Sweden to develop the finesse aspects of his game, spent a lot of time in a familiar place.

"He sat in the penalty box all the time," said Bodens IK's head coach, Kari Jaako.

Peters had more than 101 penalty minutes in his first nine games, including 37 in the first game he played. The Swedish media pounced on the team's new novelty act.

"They were all over me when I first got here, as far as the penalties and everything," said Peters.

Like many other players who went to Europe during the lockout, Peters had a difficult time adjusting to a radically different culture and brand of hockey. And, when he suffered a serious abdominal injury in December, Peters packed his bags and went home.

Despite the tumultuous tenure of his first few games, the team invited Peters to return to Boden in the new year. Two weeks ago, he arrived a changed player.

"I think this time he's in much better form," said Jaako. "He's lost about 12 pounds. He's a big guy -- he was almost too big for Swedish hockey I think.

"Now he's helping a lot. Last game [a 4-1 win over Pitea], he scored the winning goal. He was very good. I think he's coming along all the time."

Peters feels coming to Sweden was the right decision.

"With the lockout, it's a once in a lifetime opportunity to play with very skilled players and work on, you know, skills. I've definitely learned a lot, and I think my game's developed over here.

"I just didn't want to fight. I've already proven to myself, proven to people that I can fight, so it's nice to actually improve my game."

Does that mean fans can expect him on a scoring line when the NHL resumes play?

"No. I'm just trying to become a more complete player. I don't think that my role as an enforcer will ever change. There's a lot more glory in scoring goals, I'll tell you, but like I said, you've got to do what gets you there, and you do what you can to stay there.

"Maybe if I'm lucky one day I can end up like Tie Domi and score 12 to 15 goals a year. That's what I'm trying to aim for is to be an impact guy like him."

With Bodens, Peters plays 20 minutes a game on the second line and the power play, a stark contrast from the four minutes a game he saw in the NHL last year. Fighting is his role, but Peters doesn't glorify it.

"I don't know that anyone in the world enjoys getting punched in the face."

Peters may be an enforcer, but he's no dummy. If his odyssey pays off, however, he just might be a Domi.

• Black & White Photo: Dave Sandford, Getty Images / Andrew Peters knows he's a tough guy, but he also wants to contribute a few goals like Toronto's Tie Domi.


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