With a new season comes a new feature. Every Thursday, Inside Hockey will be featuring a Throwback Thursday column on the New Jersey Devils. Stories from times long past, cherished memories and a few growing up hockey pieces will be featured of past and current New Jersey Devils.
Starting off the series is a growing up hockey piece on the childhood and hockey career of Mike Peluso.
Growing Up Hockey with Mike Peluso
One of the most defining moments in the Stanley Cup final game of 1995 was a big tough guy sitting on the New Jersey Devils bench weeping. The tears just came pouring out of him uncontrollably as he wept.
He wasn’t crying because the Devils were losing. He was crying because he was thinking at that moment that the original New Jersey Devils, Ken Daneyko, Bruce Driver and John MacLean, were about to win their first Stanley Cup. This moment was the moment these original Devils had been waiting for and Mike Peluso was witnessing it firsthand.
To him, it was the most beautiful moment he had ever experienced. He wasn’t thinking about how his team was winning the Stanley Cup in that moment. He was thinking about the original Devils winning their very first Stanley Cup. He became so overcome with emotion, he couldn’t leave the bench.
Before that moment on that bench in 1995 when Peluso’s emotional outburst of tears made Devils history, he was just a kid growing up in Minnesota…never believing that he would one day be sitting on the bench crying his heart out watching the New Jersey Devils win their first Stanley Cup.
He didn’t grow up watching NHL moments on television. He wasn’t like most kids that grew up idolizing certain NHL stars. He grew up idolizing his older brother, Gino.
“He was not a good skater like Niedermayer, but he was gifted,” Peluso said of his older brother. “I looked up to him at the start. In Northern Minnesota, we only got three channels, so we didn’t get the game. Once in a while on Sundays, we got the Flyers game. Bob Kelly did the games. I don’t know if you remember Peter Puck. He’d come in with his cartoon.”
It was Peter Puck that he said was his favorite. That’s as close as it came to what made him fall in love with the game as far as stars were concerned. When it came down to an actual person, he responded, “Doug Wilson for me and my brother. I didn’t get a lot of channels.”
This was also the 1960’s and early 1970’s. Cable and satellite TV didn’t rule evenings at home. Out in northern Minnesota, life was really about the community.
“We didn’t have cable TV. I don’t want to sound like a hardship case. We only got three channels. Every once in a while we got Channel 8 out of Midgie, and that was Sesame Street. We did get on Sunday Bob Kelly. We got the Flyers game and Peter Puck and that’s when I watched some games on TV.
He watched his first hockey game in the late 70s. Possibly some time between 1976-78.
“Bob Kelly was actually announcing and then they’d have the Peter Puck guy come out on the ice.”
“We had college hockey and high school hockey. We followed that. There wasn’t really that much pro-hockey until the Stanley Cup. With 3 channels, hockey really wasn’t a big sport. We followed the North Stars. I’ve been a big North Stars fan my whole life. I’d go down once and a while. My Dad would take me to Met Center and watch the North Stars play. But it was mainly college hockey that I followed.
“Minnesota is kind of environmental. Everyone is kind of raised on skates, snow and ice so everybody plays hockey. We had a lot of outdoor rinks. All of the northern Minnesota’s little small towns had big ice rinks, so it’s kind of environmental where you grow up. People are born with skates on their [feet] so that’s how it all began there.”
“I started when I was about five,” he said of his early hockey beginnings. “I was a short, fat kid. I liked playing in my boots because I was always better in my boots, but then guys got a little quicker so I switched to skates.”
“We had youth programs…house league programs. I think it’s just Minnesota. You’re just born in the environment of hockey. It’s just part of your life.”
“We all played [hockey],” Peluso said of his family. “Dad was real supportive. We had mite hockey, pee wee hockey. The parents are just very influential. First of all, putting equipment on you and then hockey is somewhat like Canada in Northern Minnesota…the environment, the cold weather and the ice rinks…it’s just part of life. It’s part of what we are. Everybody plays.”
Peluso always looked up to his brother as a hockey player. His brother had a lot of talent. So why didn’t he end up playing in the NHL?