Brent Peterson and his teammates didn’t know what to expect in 1976 when their junior hockey team moved from Edmonton to Portland, first Canadian major junior hockey team to move to the United States.
“It was kind of tough to move down here,” Peterson said, recalling that several members of the 1976-77 Winterhawks were homesick enough to leave the team.
Friday at Memorial Coliseum figures to spark a different emotion for Peterson and his family. The former Winterhawk player and coach is being honored as the fifth inductee in the team’s hall of fame.
“It’s a big honor,” Peterson said. “A lot of people were involved, coaches, teammates, family members. I’m the one being honored, but there are a lot of people who helped me along the way.”
Peterson played a significant role in establishing the Winterhawks brand in Portland.
He was the team’s captain the year Brian Shaw and Ken Hodge brought the team to Portland. In two seasons as a Winterhawk, the second of those interrupted by a shoulder injury, Peterson scored 67 goals and added 128 assists for 195 points in 120 games.
He played 620 games over 12 seasons in the National Hockey League. In 1991, Peterson returned to Portland as an assistant coach. He became the head coach in 1993. In 1998 he guided Portland to WHL and Memorial Cup championships.
Peterson said it was not until the second half of that season that he realized he had a team capable of doing something in the playoffs.
“On paper, we were just average,” Peterson said. “But we knew how to play the game. We could play whatever kind of hockey they other team wanted to play.”
Peterson took a job as an assistant coach with the NHL expansion Nashville Predators in 1998. Diagnosed in 2004 with Parkinson’s disease, Peterson was part of Nashville’s coaching staff through last season and remains with Nashville as an advisor.
Peterson recently underwent a new procedure called deep brain stimulation and said he is doing well.
“DBS has been a lifesaver for me,” he said.
As part of the Hall of Fame festivities, a silent auction will be held during Friday’s game to benefit the Peterson Foundation for Parkinson’s.
Mike Johnston, the Winterhawks head coach and general manager, first met Peterson more than a decade ago when both were assistant coaches in the NHL. Johnston said that he has been impressed by Peterson’s ability to teach, and with the fondness his players have expressed for him.
“Brent seems like such a genuine, good person,” Johnston said.
And Portland’s current coach said that Peterson has always expressed his passion for the Winterhawks.
“You could always really tell how much he loves the Winterhawks,” Johnston said.
Peterson said one of his fondest memories from his playing days with the Winterhawks was beating New Westminster in the team’s first home game at Memorial Coliseum.
Peterson said he learned the coaching skills from teammates and coaches in Portland and in the NHL “who taught me how to do the right thing.”
Along those lines, Peterson said his priority while coaching the Winterhawks was helping teach young players how to succeed in life, not just how to become better hockey players.
As much satisfaction as he’s had watching former Winterhawks such as Marion Hossa succeed as NHLers, Peterson said he takes pride in the number of former Winterhawks who have succeeded in many facets of life.
By inducting Peterson into the Winterhawks Hall of Fame, the club that helped Peterson grow into a pro’s pro is recognizing his imprint on the club and its legacy of success in Portland.
Did you know?
• Brent Peterson is the fourth inductee into the Winterhawks Hall of Fame. The team created its hall of fame in March of 2010, inducting team founder Brian Shaw, longtime general manager and coach Ken Hodge, and Dennis Holland, who is the team’s leader in career goals scored. At that time, longtime trainer Innes Mackie received the first Brian C. Shaw Award for Meritorious Service to the Organization.
• The Peterson Foundation for Parkinson promotes research and awareness. Its website is petersonforparkinsons.org.