Rod Pelley's Attitude and Experience Helping Lead the way for the Albany Devils
Date: Feb 6, 2017
As a Canadian-born center from the small town of Kitimat, British Columbia, Canada, a town of little more than 9,000 people, Rod Pelley faced a similar fate that most Canadian-born players with aspirations to play professionally typically face. Moving away from home as a teenager to play junior A hockey. The first true step towards a professional career.
“At 15 I left (home) to play Junior A with the Prince George Spruce Kings and the Vernon Vipers via trade prior to the 2001-02 BCHL Playoffs. Playing on a big stage like that was a great opportunity to showcase myself and get scouted,” said Pelley.
The decision paid off. During his two seasons of Junior A, Pelley averaged almost a point per game (109 points in 110 career games), and played in front of scouts from some of the biggest programs in college hockey. Those scouts liked what they saw, so much so that Pelley earned and accepted a full-scholarship to Ohio State University where he played from 2002 to 2006 while earning a degree in sports management.
“After talking to Coach (John) Markell and visiting the campus, the facilities were outstanding and the rink was great. At the time, they were building a program that they wanted to excel, I got that feeling and wanted to be a part of that. I had the opportunity to go in as a true freshman and couldn’t pass that up.”
A scholarship to Ohio State prompted yet another big move for Pelley, this one, even bigger than the last. From his native Canada to the United States, more specifically Columbus, Ohio to play CCHA hockey for the Buckeyes and Coach Markell.
“Those four years were huge for me. You learn so much more than just hockey. You develop not just as a player but a person too. The coaching staff I had, along with my teammates, they were all so important to my development and journey to the pro’s,” Pelley said.
Pelley’s Ohio State career was a special one. He did in fact make an impact right away for the Buckeyes as the only freshman to see action in all 43 games. His second year was equally impressive seeing action in all 42 games that season, and being named to the CCHA All-Tournament Team.
Despite being a staple in the Buckeye lineup during his first two seasons, it wasn’t until his junior season (where Pelley served as an assistant captain), that Pelley realized hockey might be his future, and that he could make a living playing the game he loved since 5-years-old.
“I think it was my junior year when I realized I had a chance to play pro. I had a breakout year scoring-wise and the confidence that came with it really made me think I had a shot at it.”
At the end of his junior campaign, which was the best of his college career, Pelley earned Second Team All-CCHA Honors after finishing the season ranking second on the team with a career-best 41 points and 22 goals.
That junior season was not only a strong season for Pelley individually, but for the entire team as the Buckeyes took home a Conference title that season, one of Pelley’s most memorable moments during his time as a Buckeye.
“Winning a CCHA Conference Championship (my junior year), that was fun, you put in so much time in the weight room with those guys, it was just really special.”
Pelley continued, “Our Senior Night was also incredibly memorable for me. We had a small class that year, just four of us so we were all really close and it was a very tight-knit group. All four of us went on to play professional hockey after that and still keep in contact today.”
Following his senior season, where Pelley again served as one of the team’s assistant captains, he went unclaimed in the NHL Entry Draft. But shortly thereafter, a call from the New Jersey Devils kept his dream to one day play professional hockey alive.
“I remember watching the rounds of the NHL Draft go by and my phone was silent. Deep down there was disappointment, but I knew all along I wanted to play pro and I had good support from everyone around me,” remembered Pelley.
Signing with the Devils was a very special moment for me. From all those years in junior through college. All those ups and downs, twists and turns, to finally achieve that goal and signing your first contract to become part of such a storied franchise. You just feel grateful.”
“There are so many kids out there that have excellent college or junior careers and they don’t get that same opportunity (to play professionally) that I got. Now 12 years later, I never lose sight of how lucky I am.”
No matter the level or league Pelley found himself playing in, he says the key to succeeding was to make sure he kept improving and never plateau.
“For me, there were always players who were more skilled or had a more natural ability, but the one thing I always managed to do was not plateau. It may have taken me a few weeks or a half of a season, but I kept working, getting better and never plateaued.”
Pelley pointed out that there is a transition every time you move up a level in competitive hockey, but for him, some transitions were easier than others.
“Going from level to level, players get bigger, faster, stronger. College to the American Hockey League (AHL) was probably the easiest for me and the move from the AHL to the NHL was the hardest. The game got quicker and it was much tighter in space too. It’s a much more defensive game in the NHL. It’s crazy how fast and how much room the defense takes away. There is much more structure and attention to detail at the professional level then there is at the college level.”
Nonetheless, Pelley had to adjust and he had to do so very quickly as he rose through the ranks of professional hockey rapidly. After starting the 2006-07 season with the Devils’ AHL affiliate in Lowell, MA Pelley saw his first NHL action in 2007 and even scored his first NHL goal in November of the same year against Martin Biron of the Philadelphia Flyers.
“Playing in my first NHL game was so exciting, I don’t really know how to put that excitement into words honestly. I can remember exact moments of the day, pregame meal, pregame skate. I just went out there and played on pure adrenalin. It’s just something you’ll never forget and a memory you’ll have forever.”
“I remember my first goal perfectly, it was at home against the Flyers. Marty Brodeur was in goal for us. It was just off the penalty kill, the puck got in the neutral zone, I just had to chase it down. I gave it a backhand from the middle of the circle and it just snuck in past Biron.”
Also within that first year, he found himself witnessing landmark moments in Devils history like the opening of the Prudential Center in October of 2007, and record-setting performances by future Hall of Fame goaltender Martin Brodeur.
In December of 2011, after five seasons with the Devils’ organization, Pelley learned the lesson that every professional athlete is forced to learn at some point in his or her career. That professional sports is a business, that players are expendable and can be traded at a moment’s notice. Pelley, along with Mark Fraser and a 2012 7th round draft pick, was traded to the Anaheim Ducks in exchange for Kurtis Foster and Timo Pielmeier
New Jersey Devils General Manager at the time, Lou Lamoriello, didn’t want to lose Pelley but knew the Anaheim Ducks were getting one heck of a player.
He went on record as saying, "When you have such quality individuals (like Pelley and Fraser) who've given you so much each and every day in practice and in the locker room as support, you try and do the best for them. This is a win situation for both teams. They're getting two role players who will be tremendous for them and we're getting a player who has tremendous upside in the role we see that he'll fit.”
“I try to put those things, (trades) out of the back of my mind. At the end of the day, all you can do is put the work in daily, be a good pro and the rest will take care of itself,” added Pelley.
The move to the Anaheim Ducks was short-lived. As a free agent heading into the 2012-13 season and with a NHL lockout in place to begin the year, Pelley was signed midway into the 2012–13 season to a professional try-out contract with the Ducks' AHL affiliate, the Norfolk Admirals. After that season with the Admirals however, Pelley signed a one-year deal to return to the New Jersey Devils where he has played ever since.
Pelley, now 32-years old, is still going strong. He has learned a lot over the past ten seasons of professional hockey, and the past four seasons in the AHL with the Albany Devils.
“From the hockey side of it, I’ve learned that it is a process. These coaches and GM’s know what they are doing and what is best for the team. That is a process you have to respect. I see younger guys get frustrated when they don’t get where they want to be as fast as they want. They need to remember it’s a long season and they’ll have a long career if they trust the process and be ready for the opportunities they get. That would be the advice I would give myself ten or 11 years ago when I was starting my career.”
Pelley also uses his time away from the rink strategically which he attributes to his longevity in the pro ranks. “I think it’s a mix of things really, my offseason training and diet. I have worked with great trainers over the years who have been able to help me identify deficiencies and use the offseason to improve them. I use a variety of workouts. At my age, when I try to improve, I say I want to get 1% better in every area and go from there. You must stay athletic, stay fit, and be well-rounded. It’s a young man’s game now-a-days.”
At 32, Pelley shows no signs of being ready to hang up his skates and call it quits. The quest for a championship still drives and motivates him.
“I’d love to win a Championship of some sort, it’s one of the most sought-after things in all of sport. That’s one thing that I hope, before the end of my career, I can go all the way and grind out a Championship. I still dream of it and drive and push for it everyday.”
Though the one thing Pelley wants more than anything is a Championship, he knows he can’t play forever.
“I’ll play as long as I can, until I feel like I can’t contribute to my team anymore. That and when my body tells me. Right now though, my body feels great and there is still an opportunity to play. As long as I have that, I’ll keep playing.”
Pelley maintains that even when that day comes, when he retires from the game he’s dedicated his life to, he doesn’t want to leave it entirely.
“I think I would like to get into coaching. That’s what I’m passionate about. I’ve had some great coaches over the years and I always have tried to really absorb what they are saying and teaching to get better as a player, and maybe as a coach one day. Learning the game and helping players get better is what I’m passionate about.”
Only time will tell how many more seasons Rod Pelley has in him as a professional hockey player, but for now, he has embraced his leadership role as a veteran and Captain with the Albany Devils, mentoring the next wave of Devils talent, which is certain to help shape his post hockey career.