Home Ice Advantage
Peterson Finds Comfort, Improvement In Move to Duluth
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CHICAGO When Avery Peterson laces up his skates Saturday night, his older brother Evan will be in the stands, watching him. It won’t be the first time that Evan, or his family, have watched Avery play. It won’t even be the first time they’ve seen him play on Frozen Four ice — Avery skated in the semifinals in 2015.
Back then, Peterson was playing for Nebraska-Omaha. It was his freshman season, and he posted 21 points in 39 games.
But Avery was homesick. And he missed Evan. While Avery was in high school, Evan was diagnosed with Metachromatic Leukodystrophy, a rare, genetic terminal brain disease.
"My mom and dad were in the hospitals and stuff with him for a long time so it was me and my sister at home, but you grow up fast," Avery Peterson said. "I think it made my family come closer together in the long run. Once you have adversity like that it makes everybody realize the better things in life."
The emotional hardship was showing on the ice, and Avery recorded just one point in 14 games as a sophomore with the Mavericks.
"It was hard,” Avery said. “That was the first time in my life that I had something outside of hockey that was affecting my game. I couldn't play. ... So I just knew that I wasn't in the right spot at the time.”
He made the decision to leave Nebraska-Omaha midway through the season. The school cleared him to talk to schools in Minnesota, and soon the Bulldogs approached Avery.
"I think he was looking at either Duluth or Bemidji and I thought maybe we had a little bit of an edge because he had played with some of our guys,” UMD head coach Scott Sandelin said.
For the rest of that season and for half of this year, Avery couldn’t play. He couldn’t travel with the team. But Sandelin said the separation from hockey helped Avery be closer to his family.
“It allowed him to get back in touch versus being in Omaha, where they didn't have as close proximity,” Sandelin said. “I think it helped him mentally; I hope he would say that just knowing that he's close enough to have him come or spend time with him.”
Evan became a part of the Bulldog hockey family too, spending time at the rink and with Avery’s teammates. Evan also plays with a local sled hockey team, coached by Peterson and his teammates Brendan Kotyk and Sammy Spurrell.
“The guys are great to him so he'll go hang out with other guys, not even me. So it's cool he gets that college experience because he never got that with everything going on,” Avery said.
"Evan's awesome. He's a great guy, he's a good role model. He doesn't really know what's going on, that's part of the disease, but you wouldn't be able to tell he's got something going on. He's always in a good mood. He's always smiling. He just loves to be here so he's a good kid."
Avery’s proximity to his home of Grand Rapids, Minn., has helped his play on the ice. In just 24 games this year, Avery has seven goals and 14 points.
“He's pretty open about things. We don't talk as a coaching staff to him about it a lot, but the guys are aware," Sandelin said. "Those are your support systems. If he wants to talk, we're aware, we always ask how he's doing when we see him at the rink. But I think he's handled it great. And I think him being closer has hopefully helped him feel a little bit better about everything, and I think it's helped his brother too.
“I just love his coachability. He comes to the rink, he works hard every day which is all you can ask for players. I hope he feels that he's a better player, I don't know what kind of system UNO plays or whatever but I think he feels comfortable with how we play, I think some of that too is you got to get playing to kind of figure it out. I just think his overall game, (his) skating's improved, I think his body positioning is improved, now he's been able to shoot the puck.”
In the span of a year, Avery shortened the distance from his brother by 500 miles.
“I was 10 hours from home but you don't really think about it,” Avery said. “But once you're at a place where it’s an hour away, you can get in your car and drive home if you want to, it's just a different feeling and it's a different sort of comfort. I feel like Duluth's home to me now, so any time you have that sort of comfort, it helps your game."