Peca Off to Fast Start in Second Pro Season

By Jeremy Houghtaling

Matthew Peca’s second goal looked like a replay of his first.

The center darted toward the crease and fired off a quick snap shot on a feed from behind the net to give Syracuse the lead late in the first period and added the eventual game-winner on a similar play midway through the second. Peca finished with three points on the weekend, as Syracuse swept a home-and-home series against Rochester to open the season.

Off to a fast start, Peca is looking to become more of an offensive threat in his second professional season.

“I think that’s the key in any situation,” Peca said. “You want to get the puck on and off your stick. We all work on that in practice. It’s good to see the first two go in. They were good plays — nice passes from (Cory) Conacher — and just one-touches.”

Peca began the weekend flanked by wingers Adam Erne and Tye McGinn, but Conacher replaced McGinn on Sunday. Peca, Erne and McGinn combined for four points in Syracuse’s 4-1 victory on opening night, while Peca, Erne and Conacher combined for six points in the Crunch’s 6-3 win Sunday.

“I think there was a bit of familiarity,” Peca said. “I played with Tye all last season and with Adam for bits and pieces and on the power play. I think we were on the same page. We like to play fast and it worked out.”

Crunch head coach Benoit Groulx was impressed with Peca’s speed and compete level over the weekend.

“He’s a second-effort hockey player and I thought he was relentless on the forecheck and created a lot of turnovers,” Groulx said. “I thought he had a really good weekend.”

Peca’s was fifth on the team in scoring last season. Despite missing almost five weeks due to an upper body injury, the Petawawa, Ontario native registered eight goals and 35 assists in 65 games during his rookie year with the Crunch last season.

“Last year was a little bit of a feeling out year and trying to get used to the game,” the 23-year-old said. “This year I’m a little more comfortable. My heads up more now and I know the systems a little better. It’s just about playing to play and not playing to not mess up. As a rookie you’re always gripping your stick a little too much.”

Peca, drafted by the Lightning in the seventh round of the 2011 draft, averaged close to a point per game over four years a Quinnipiac University. Over 157 games, the forward racked up 42 goals and 101 assists.

Now in his second season as a pro, Peca is looking to round out his game. He wants to be responsible in his own zone and still be able to create offense at the other end.

“I think it’s just playing in all three zones,” Peca said. “Obviously, I want to be more of a threat to score. I worked on my shot this summer, and I’m just trying to get stronger and faster. You’re playing against bigger guys and you have to be able to protect the puck down low.”

With the opening weekend behind them, Peca and the Crunch look to keep rolling after a fast start.

“I thought the team played really well,” Peca said. “We stuck to our identity. We had a lead going into the third in both games and ended up winning. It’s good that you put teams away early. I was happy with our performance.”

Pictured: Crunch forward Matthew Peca looks to make a pass against the Americans at the Onondaga County War Memorial Saturday.