COLUMBUS – When Matt Pelech attended Sharks training camp last month he had little to no chance of making the opening night roster. Still, it was a good indication that he might be in San Jose’s plans if the team needed a tough forward to suit up at some point during the shortened season.
The call came over the weekend, and the 6-foot-4, 235-pounder met the team in Columbus on Sunday night, where he was set to play his first NHL game on Monday here since the 2008-09 season, when he suited up for five games for the Calgary Flames.
“I’m obviously super excited to come up here and help out,” Pelech said after Monday’s morning skate at Nationwide Arena.
Pelech’s role in the AHL has been that of a tough, fearless enforcer who protects his teammates. He’s in his second season with Worcester, and has already been suspended twice this season for a total of seven games – four for coming off of the bench to fight Albany’s Jay Leach after Leach went after Freddie Hamilton, and three for a match penalty for a flying forearm to the head against Syracuse.
An alternate captain in Worcester, Pelech leads the team with a dozen fighting majors. In 330 career AHL games, he has 935 penalty minutes and 72 fights.
The Sharks no longer have an abundance of players who fill the role Pelech provides, as Brandon Mashinter was traded to the Rangers organization in January, and the Toronto Maple Leafs unexpectedly claimed Frazer McLaren off of waivers on Jan. 31.
Pelech realizes those transactions provide him a window of opportunity.
“I just want to take advantage of it and play hard and play well, and help the team,” he said. “With those two guys, they are both big physical guys, it does open up a spot for me. I just have to make sure I come in and play well, and take advantage of it.”
Pelech has only played a few games at forward for Worcester, which is where he’ll line up against the Blue Jackets. In training camp, he skated mainly as a defenseman, and has played mostly on the blue line since he was chosen in the first round by Calgary in 2005.
Has it been hard to transition from one position to the other?
“It’s not as hard as I thought it would be to go back and forth,” he said. “I think mainly because the staff has taken the time to help me out and show me what they expect, and how they want me to play. It’s been fun, actually, because I’m getting to help out in two different ways.”
It wouldn’t be a shock to see Pelech drop the gloves against the Blue Jackets, as their roster features a number of players willing to fight. In fact, Columbus leads the league with 15 majors, including a league-leading six to Jared Boll, who was fined for his dirty elbow to the head of Andrew Desjardins in a game here last season.