Peca Getting Comfortable, Consistent With Crunch

By Jeremy Houghtaling

Matthew Peca’s goals in back-to-back games looked eerily similar.

The Syracuse Crunch center picked the puck off the half wall, danced through multiple defenders to the slot, and wristed a shot into the back of the net. Peca used his speed and skill to get into prime scoring areas, and was rewarded with three points in his last two games.

Peca is getting more comfortable and consistent as he continues to develop during his rookie season.

“Over the last couple weeks his game has been more consistent,” said Crunch head coach Rob Zettler. “He’s skating a little more consistently, he’s starting to protect pucks down low, and you see these goals he is scoring off the half wall and moving into the high traffic areas — that’s where he’s really good. He just needs to get there often and use his speed to his advantage.”

Used in all situations, Peca has recorded four goals and three assists in 12 games with Syracuse this season. But the 5-9, 175-pounder has had to make adjustments in his transition from college hockey.

“Guys are much stronger and it’s harder to get to the net, so the dirty areas are a lot tougher,” the 22-year-old said. “It’s just a different game. The systems are different, the D zone coverage is different, and you’re playing against talented players and you have to keep your head on a swivel.”

Peca’s line with Joel Vermin and Tye McGinn has stayed together throughout most of the season, and at times has been Syracuse’s best offensive threat. Vermin is tied for the team lead with 10 points, while McGinn has used his size as a screen and has four points.

“We got a little frustrated with how we were playing early on, but we went back to the drawing board and said ‘We have to get pucks deep,’” Peca said. “It’s cliche, but we have to keep it simple. I thought we did that this weekend and it worked out well for us.”

A seventh-round selection by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2011 draft, Peca spent four years with Quinnipiac University and recorded 42 goals and 101 assists for 143 points over 157 collegiate contests.

After completing his senior season at Quinnipiac last season, Peca signed an entry-level deal and recorded one goal and three assists in eight games with the Crunch.

“It’s a different game than college, so to get those games last year under my belt was huge,” the Petawawa, Ontario, native said. “You’re not coming in here with a bunch of question marks. You hit the ground running and you know what to expect.”

Peca is focused on learning what he can and improving his game, whether it’s coverage in the defensive zone or protecting the puck down low. But one aspect stands out.

“Consistency is the biggest thing,” Peca said. “It’s tough to play against players who bring it every night and teams that can bring it every night. (You have to) just be a sponge and hopefully have some fun.”

Pictured: Crunch forward Matthew Peca looks to make a pass against the Phantoms at the Onondaga County War Memorial on Nov. 7.