On The Prowl

Brett Peterson Feasts On A Full Plate As He Looks To Lead The NHL’s Panthers And Team USA To Victory

 

Brett Peterson remembers one of the first times he came to south Florida wearing the logo of the hometown hockey team. To his surprise, the organization that joined the NHL in 1993 was still relatively unknown to many in the local community.

That’s starting to change as the Florida Panthers made it to the Stanley Cup Final last year and remain one of the top contenders again this season. Success on the ice will certainly do that. So too does creating an inclusive culture that welcomes everybody to join the party.

“The excitement around our sport down here is booming. You see the [Panthers] flags and hockey nets everywhere when you’re driving by. It’s really an exciting time to be a young person looking at hockey in this demographic,” Peterson said. “It’s a credit to the players and the ownership and what they’ve done in such a short period of time and putting all these fantastic people together.”

Peterson certainly fits into that category too. Now in his third season as the assistant general manager with the team, the Northborough, Mass., native brings a unique skill set to South Beach and the Panthers front office. Teaming up with long-time friend and mentor Bill Zito, Peterson has helped propel the Panthers into the upper echelon of Cup contenders.

And just as many have taken notice of what the team is doing on the ice, Peterson’s efforts have caught the attention of others in the game.

“I hope that by being different than the way things have historically looked will inspire any person, regardless of what their skin type is. If they can see people that are breaking the normal rotation, that will hopefully inspire other people to do the same.”

Recently, the 42-year-old was named the general manager for the U.S. Men’s National Team that will compete at the 2024 IIHF Men’s World Championship in Prague and Ostrava, Czechia. 

“USA Hockey reached out and said that this is what they were thinking about doing, and would I have interest in doing it,” Peterson recalled. “It was a complete no-brainer when you get an opportunity like that to represent your country and compete on a world scale and have the opportunity to showcase the improvements in American hockey.”

Receiving the call from USA Hockey’s John Vanbiesbrouck was somewhat of a surreal moment for Peterson, who attended the first training camp for USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program in 1996. Even though he did not make the final cut, the experience was a motivating factor in a career that took him to Boston College, where he appeared in 157 games and won a national title in 2001.

“I never played for the national program, but I was there for the initial camp and that was pretty much as close as I had gotten to having the opportunity to represent our country,” said Peterson, who played five years in various pro leagues before shifting gears to become a player agent. “It’s a great feeling. It’s kind of like a full circle experience.”

While this will be his first experience in constructing a national team, Peterson won’t have to do it alone. Supporting him in the player selection process will be a collection of NHL general managers that makes up the U.S. Men’s National Team Advisory Group, which includes Zito, who led the U.S. to a bronze medal at the 2018 tournament.

Just as he has leaned on Zito many times in the past, Peterson won’t have to look beyond the next office to get some sage advice.

“Bill was obviously ecstatic for me to have been given this opportunity,” Peterson said. “We had some great conversations when the first phone call came across about what to expect and some of the obstacles. He’s been a fantastic sounding board for me with this new experience as well as joining the Panthers as an assistant general manager. He’s always been a very good mentor and leader for me.”

Just as Zito has helped him find his footing in the game, Peterson has always welcomed the opportunity to open the door for other people of color to find their own place in the game. 

To that end, Peterson has been involved with the NextGEN AAA Foundation hockey team, a nonprofit organization that provides mentoring and hockey programs to underprivileged youth and underserved communities. He also coached an all-minority team to the 2020 Beantown Summer Classic Tournament title.

While his current day job has kept him from devoting as much time as he would like, Peterson has always relished the opportunity to serve as a sounding board for others just as Zito and others have done for him over the course of his career.

“I came from a family where no one played hockey. I just got lucky that a college coach started me off and I fell in love with it,” said Peterson, who is the first Black assistant GM in the NHL and first Black GM of the U.S. Men’s National Team. 

“I hope that by being different than the way things have historically looked will inspire any person, regardless of what their skin type is. If they can see people that are breaking the normal rotation, that will hopefully inspire other people to do the same.”

For the time being, Peterson will continue to lead by example, devoting his time and efforts to helping the Panthers take the next step up in their run for the Stanley Cup while also looking to accomplish something that hasn’t been done since 1933, bring a Men’s World Championship trophy home to the U.S. soil. Both are tall tasks, but Peterson relishes the challenge.

“It’s funny because at the end of the day, it’s hockey and they all mesh together,” he said. “I’ve been lucky enough to have a career of doing what I’ve always wanted to do and not what I have to do. So, for me, this is just fun. It’s not really a burden. It’s not extra work. It’s just a different type of fun work.”

Issue: 
2024-01

Poll

Who is your favorite American player?
Auston Matthews
21%
Jason Robertson
6%
Tage Thompson
10%
Matthew Tkachuk
7%
Patrick Kane
24%
Other
33%
Total votes: 376