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Reaching games played record a memorable ride for Pelech

Friday, February 17th
Action photo of Mike Pelech of the Atlanta Gladiators

When he made his professional debut with the ECHL’s Ontario Reign in the 2009-10 season, Mike Pelech never thought he would still be playing 13 seasons later.

But the Atlanta Gladiators forward is still going strong, and on Feb. 14, set a new ECHL record for career games played when he skated in game number 860, breaking the previous mark set by 2018 ECHL Hall of Fame inductee Sam Ftorek.

“I never started thinking about the record until the start of this season,” he said. “Definitely the past couple of years have been crazy with the COVID season and then I had shoulder surgery last year. So honestly this year was the first time that I thought that I had a chance to do it.”

Pelech has been the model of consistency over his career, beginning with that first season when he skated in all 72 games. In all but two of his seasons, he played in over 60 ECHL games – in 2012-13, he appeared in 50 games with Cincinnati while also skating in 18 games for three teams in the American Hockey League and last season, he had season-ending shoulder surgery after 40 games.

“Especially in this league, you play a lot of games in a short period of time so consistency and just practicing properly and taking care of yourself is the most important thing,” Pelech said. “If you can stay level for the whole season, it will go a long way.”

For Gladiators’ head coach Jeff Pyle, himself one of the most successful coaches in ECHL history with the second most wins all-time, bringing in a player with Pelech’s background and ability was a no brainer.

“It's no coincidence that he’s as good as he is and just the type of person he is, his work ethic and his accountability are top notch,” he said. “He comes from a great family of athletes and he’s earned everything he’s accomplished. We are proud to have him in our organization and I think the world of him.

“He’s rarely hurt, and even when he’s banged up he doesn’t let you know, and as a coach I hate that but I love it at the same time,” Pyle continued. “In the end, he’s just a quality human being and you try to surround yourself with good people and I thought I did a pretty good job by bringing him in.”

In addition to now holding the ECHL record for games played, Pelech is also near the tops of two other lists. He ranks third all-time with 457assists – just three behind Chris Valicevic for second all-time – and is fourth with 655 points. Despite the accolades, there is one accomplishment he still hopes to achieve.

“I’ve played a lot of years and haven’t won a championship yet,” he said. “There were a couple of seasons where it was really close. When I was Cincinnati, we went to the Conference Finals, and I got traded to Reading at the deadline one year and we had a really good team and had a chance, but still trying to get that championship so hopefully it will come.”

Whenever Pelech decides to wrap up his playing career, not only will he take his place in ECHL history with him, he will also have relationships to continue on well into the future.

“I’ve had so much fun over the course of my career,” Pelech said. “I’ve met a lot of great people and will have friends from these years of playing probably for the rest of my life. It’s been a great experience and been on quite bit of teams and been able to see all the country pretty much so it’s been great.”

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