Brett Peterson, a defenseman on Boston College’s NCAA championship team in 2001, on Tuesday was named an assistant general manager by the Florida Panthers, a move the team said makes him the first Black to fill that position in an NHL front office.
Peterson, 39, who played his prep school hockey at Cushing Academy in Ashburnham, was hired by new Panthers GM Bill Zito, the ex-player agent who also hired Peterson some 10 years ago to join Acme Sports, his Chicago-based player-rep firm.
“He’s one of these guys whose energy and personality is so infectious — it’s almost a skill,” Zito said from his office in Sunrise, Fla. “He’s so positive. He’s obviously a very, very bright man, who has considerable hockey intellect, acumen, experience — a balanced track record that is so vital today.”
Peterson, a communications major who graduated from BC in 2004, played five seasons in the minor pros, most in the ECHL. Upon wrapping up his playing career in 2009, he joined Acme as an agent, and in recent years, while based in Boston, he formed a tight working relationship with Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask, one of Acme’s early high-profile clients.
“Friends with everyone,” said Jerry York, his coach at BC. “Brett always went out of his way with people. His circle of friends is gigantic.”
York said he called Zito, a former Yale winger, two days after he was named GM and told him he should hire Peterson.
“Great choice for Billy,” kidded York. “For a Yale guy, you know, he made a good choice.”
Peterson will continue to live in Newton and monitor Panthers prospects throughout the Northeast.
“It’s exciting. It’s overwhelming,” he said. "It’s all kind of emotions being mixed into one.
"I never thought I would set out to do something like that, and make it to this level. I’m really honored and grateful to the people that helped me get to this point.
“I’m excited for our game, which right now is doing so many fantastic things to better itself. I’m just excited to be able to take part in that, I really am.”
Born in Rochester, N.Y., Peterson learned to skate as a 2-year-old in Troy, where his mother took a job on the RPI campus that included tutoring members of Mike Addesa’s hockey team.
“Part of her fee,” recalled Peterson, “was she was able to say, ‘Put my crazy son on the ice and teach him how to play hockey.' ”
As a player of color, role models were few in the game as he grew up, but Peterson remembers drawing inspiration from the likes of Black NHL players Anson Carter and Mike Grier.
“Seeing them, and just for me to continue playing hockey, it was exciting,” said Peterson. “And I’m just excited now to be able to share a little bit of that with younger kids.”
Zito recently hired another assistant GM, Paul Krepelka, who grew up in Arlington and for years was with Bobby Orr’s Boston-based player agency, the Orr Group.
Krepelka, a onetime Princeton defenseman, will share various duties with Peterson, touching on areas such as scouting, player development, and player contracts.
While noting that hiring Peterson would signal once again "that hockey is for everyone — and it is!”, Zito asserted that race didn’t factor into the decision, noting that he and Peterson became “like brothers” in the years they worked in the agency business.
“I never considered race at all,” said Zito. “Obviously, Brett’s résumé is second to none. Having worked with him, and knowing his character, the Panthers are lucky to have him.”
York, who began his college coaching career as an assistant at Clarkson in 1970, said Peterson was the first player of color he ever coached.
“You know, that never crossed my mind, really,” added York. “Hopefully that’s a good sign.”
In his playing days at BC, noted York, the only player of color he faced on an opposing team in the ’60s was Boston University forward Eddie Wright, a speedy 5-foot-5-inch winger from Ontario. Wright later coached for years at the University of Buffalo.
The Eaves brothers, Mike and Ben, were the former Eagle teammates who introduced Peterson to Zito, while they were all still players. Zito recalled that it was the Eaves brothers, attending his agency’s summer skating camps in Chicago, who first suggested to him that the gregarious Peterson would be a perfect candidate to be an agent.
“They kind of carted me along,” recalled Peterson. “It was funny. They had the guys who were destined for the NHL, and I kind of ran with those guys.
"You knew the Eaves brothers were going to do great things, and they would drag me along to the Acme camps. I got to know Billy, then started learning the business. So yeah, our relationship goes way back to when I was in college.”
During his days at The Heights, recalled Peterson, his parents often would have BC players to their home in Northborough for dinner over the holidays.
“We always had really tight friendships with all the BC guys,” he said. “I think I am indebted to that place for giving me a platform.”
Peterson only learned Tuesday, during an interview with a Globe reporter, that when he reported to the BC campus in the fall of 2000, he became the first player of color York ever coached.
"Who is it — me?! said Peterson, with a boisterous laugh. “How about that? Holy smokes! That’s crazy.”
During his four years at BC, he said, no one ever mentioned his race or his unique standing in York’s career.
“Funny … I don’t know … just a little bit crazy,” he said. “But you just kind of played. Just played the game.”