If a current ECHL player is looking for someone to seek advice from, Florida Panthers Assistant General Manager Brett Peterson would be a good person to start with.
Not only did he skate in 317 games over five seasons in the league, but prior to joining the Panthers front office this season, he spent the previous 11 years as a certified NHL player agent with Wasserman Media Group/Acme World Sports.
Peterson got his introduction to the pro game as a rookie in the ECHL during the 2004-05 season after completing his collegiate career at Boston College, which included an NCAA National Championship as a freshman in 2000-01. It was an interesting season for a player to start a pro career, with the NHL in the midst of a lockout which lasted the entire season.
“It was hard to get a job that season with the lockout,” Peterson said. “I started with Charlotte, and because of contracted players getting sent down, I ended up finding a home in Atlantic City, and subsequently got traded because of an influx of players there to Johnstown. It was kind of similar to this year to be honest with you, and it was really hard to even stay in the league because there were so many good players.”
His time around the ECHL not only helped him to develop as a player, but as a person as well.
“The ECHL played a very big part in helping me become a good professional,” he said. “Not only was it an integral piece of my development, but also having fond and fun experiences doing it.”
Spending time with teammates and others away from the rink also stands out in Peterson’s mind from his days in Atlantic City, Johnstown, Florida and Phoenix.
“When I was in Florida, knowing when you got home after a 16-hour bus ride you were going to walk out into 80 degree weather and head to the beach, when I was in Johnstown, I would go to our bus driver’s house and watch football at his place,” he recalled. “In Atlantic City, having lunch in the casinos and just living right on the beach there and walking out on the sand, there’s a lot of fond memories of time in the ECHL.”
The end to Peterson’s playing career came just before the start of the 2009-10 season, when he was about to begin training camp with the American Hockey League Grand Rapids Griffins.
“I decided to hang them up the day training camp started,” he said. “I’ll never forget it, one of my teammates called me and asked me what room I was in so he could swing by and say hello. And I said ‘I’m done, I’m out.’ I had the opportunity to become an agent, and they had been after me for a couple years leading up to that, and I just decided that I wanted to get more involved in the business side, called all parties and said this is what I’m doing.”
While Peterson enjoyed the agency side of things, getting involved at the team level was something that always appealed to him.
“I always wanted to be involved in sports business, and I did research the agency route and did a lot of learning and guiding myself to that path,” he said. “I identified that as a career path for me when I was in high school, and working for a team was something that was always out there. To be honest with you, I wasn’t sure if it would happen because you know I didn’t play 1,000 games in the NHL. That wasn’t my path, so even though I had a lot to offer, I couldn’t really picture it. Segueing into the agency and getting that experience, then it started to become a little more real because there are a lot of similarities to the business structures.”
Peterson’s hiring by the Panthers in November was historic as he became the first Black assistant general manager in NHL history. It’s a distinction that he does not take lightly.
“It’s a little bit sad that we are saying that I’m the first, but that being said, the biggest thing that I want to try to be a part of is making sure that I’m the first of many, and certainly not the last,” he said. “That speaks for people of color, and even people of different genders. I think it’s time and there are so many educated people that are involved in our sport that I hope the door has been cracked a bit and continue to push it open so we can have more amazing people share their gifts with us.”
As someone who played in the ECHL, represented players who played in the league and now is part of developing players with Florida’s affiliate – the Greenville Swamp Rabbits - Peterson hopes to see the league continue to help players develop their career.
“I think it’s an evolving piece and one of the things we want to see happen with the ECHL, at least with the Panthers, is we want to use it as a development place,” he said. “I look at the ECHL as a place that shouldn’t be a punishment to be playing in the league. It should be a place where you go work on your game and move to the next level. We want to approach it as part of our organizational development and guys that are there are there to get better. A lot of guys are there because there aren’t enough minutes in the AHL and they need to play to become a better player. We hope to be involved with the development of Panthers’ players that are in Greenville and help them to continue to reach their goals.”
For those players who like Peterson are starting their careers in the ECHL, he says they should reach high and worry about what they can control.
“They should look to become the best player they can be,” he said. “Don’t worry about or get focused on what somebody else is doing or this person got that because of this, just worry about being yourself and being the best possible player that you can be because people are always watching and if you become a better and more valuable player then there are going to be opportunities for you.”