by Gershon Rabinowitz
In a city comprised of approximately eight million individuals, New York City is slowly becoming a home for budding NHL players. Fueled by Stanley Cup glory of the Rangers and Islanders in distant memory, its impact continues to dominate. Tarrytown native Brett Pesce is the latest to benefit, becoming a valuable second line defenseman as a rookie for the Carolina Hurricanes.
Three miles from Pesce’s hometown stands the New York Rangers’ practice facility in nearby Greenburgh. The close proximity to the rink stood as motivation for Pesce who sought to emulate the players he watched fondly as a youngster.
“I remember catching Rangers practices with my family and my brothers and it was awesome to have that growing up and made me fall in love with hockey,” Pesce said.
The lure of a pro career took Pesce to an amateur hockey league designed for teenagers looking to advance their skills in USA Hockey. Playing for the New Jersey Hitmen, he hit a stumbling block when he tore his shoulder labrum and lost much of the season. After recovering valiantly with endless rehab and training, Pesce began to succeed against older competition and positioned himself for the next stage in his development.
“It was a good league in my opinion. I got to live at home my senior year with the Hitmen and the coaching staff was really good to me and although I did not play many games there due to a shoulder injury, it was a good experience for my family and me,” Pesce stated.
Pesce’s progress would result in a selection to the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament in Slovakia as a 17-year-old, and opened the eyes of scouts, where he stood among a number of top young U.S. players. The national development program was the first major stage where Pesce established himself, as he represented his country for the first time in a situation akin to an Olympic competition.
The positive experience in Slovakia helped prepare Pesce for the rigors of NCAA competition with the University of New Hampshire, where he starred as a top-4 defenseman. Pesce stood out as a freshman, playing 38 of a possible 39 games and recorded the sixth best plus/minus in the NCAA as his team finished one game short of reaching the Frozen Four. Pesce’s play continued to evolve throughout his college career as he faced Hobey Baker Award winners Jack Eichel and Johnny Gaudreau during his collegiate tenure.
“They showed me what the next level is all about and those guys are great players in the NHL right now, and it was great to compete against them and try to win for my school while showing me what it takes to shut down defenders at this level,” Pesce said.
By the time Pesce completed his junior season, he felt ready to accept the challenges, which come with an NHL career, signing a two-way contract with the Carolina Hurricanes after being drafted by the organization in the third round in 2011. Pesce made a rapid ascension through the minors and made his NHL debut on October 24, 2015 against the San Jose Sharks.
“Entering the season we did not know if he would be here or in AHL but he’s played valuable minutes for us,” Head Coach Bill Peters said.
Paired on the second line with fellow rookie Noah Hanifin, Pesce has impressed with his offensive ability and his composure in the defensive zone, recording four goals and 16 points in 64 games. Pesce’s connection with Hanifin extends off the ice where they have become fast friends and developed sound chemistry.
“Over the past few weeks we have been playing together consistently and the chemistry has risen. It’s nice knowing that we both came from college last year to play in the NHL. We come from similar backgrounds and have gotten pretty close as roommates,” Hanifin said.
Embracing their future, the Carolina Hurricanes have placed a premium on acquiring young players with the potential to grow and matriculate into a team equipped to make a future run in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Using the blueprint of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Chicago Blackhawks of years’ past, the Hurricanes are developing from within and solidifying their defensive corps.
Complimented by Hanifin and the confidence of Peters, Pesce is developing into an undervalued find after coming from humble beginnings to emerge as the only current NHL player from Tarrytown.