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Tuesday, Sep 19, 2017
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Tough decision awaits Bolts' Matthew Peca

BRANDON - Difficult decisions often guide the direction of future endeavors. For Lightning prospect Matthew Peca, one such complex choice awaits his ponderings. Tampa Bay's seventh-round selection is set to attend Quinnipiac University in Connecticut in the fall. But after a strong season playing for the Pembroke Lumber Kings in the Central Canada Hockey League — which is junior A level — under the tutelage of former Lightning forward Sheldon Keefe, Peca is now being recruited to play major junior hockey — the top tier for junior hockey — after he had his rights traded to Kingston in the Ontario Hockey League late last month. Peca, a forward, was originally picked by Windsor in the 2009 OHL draft but could not come to terms. Once a solid commitment to attend school, Peca, whose mother teaches kindergarten in his hometown of Petawawa, Ontario, now finds himself trying to decide which option best suits his future — getting a college education while playing around 35 regular-season games or developing more as a hockey player with a 68-game regular-season schedule in the OHL.
In order to attend this week's Lightning prospect development camp and maintain his NCAA eligibility, Peca had to pay his own way. "As of now I'm still going to Quinnipiac, but the major junior option just kind of came up again," said Peca, 18. "It kind of came down to me; ultimately I want to be a hockey player. Obviously school is important to me, so if I were to go to major junior I would need to find a spot that would allow me to do both but to still have a mini-professional season. I still need to think about it; I'll talk to the guys here in Tampa and they have no preference, and tell me that it's up to me. So we'll see, I'm not exactly sure what I'm going to do right now." Making a decision on the next step he takes, however, pales in comparison to the everyday decisions made in the country Peca just visited. Before the start of Tampa Bay's camp Wednesday, Peca spent June 26 to July 4 in the Dominican Republic as part of a group from Jeanne-Lajoie High School. The school takes a small group of students each year to visit the island nation west of Puerto Rico where they bring supplies to some of the poorest areas of the country. While there, Peca and his group helped to paint some houses, visited an orphanage that houses about 500 kids, including some from neighboring Haiti, and toured some of the low-income slum areas where the conveniences of everyday life are a luxury few are able to afford. "I love to help, I love kids and it was quite the learning experience; you learn a lot while you are down there and it's a real eye-opener," Peca said. "You see people down there with no running water, no electricity really. Then you come back and appreciate what you have and don't have. You don't take anything for granted when you come back." Peca returned from the Dominican Republic on July 5 and stayed the night in Ottawa with his grandparents before boarding another plane the next day heading for Tampa to take part in this week's seven-day camp. Although considered a bit undersized at 5-foot-8 and 165 pounds, Peca stood out in the CCHL following a 26-goal campaign while being voted by the league's general managers as the league's top prospect while helping Pembroke to the Junior A national championship. And though some of the CCHL's top alumni include the likes of Marty St. Louis, Dan Boyle and Steve Yzerman, Peca was the only player out of his league this season drafted by an NHL team. Led by part-time scout Chris Yzerman, Steve's brother, the Lightning spent a lot of time scouting the league. But while Peca realizes the honor that comes with being selected, and the recognition it offers to the CCHL, he understands the road ahead of him will not be easy hockey-wise, no matter which path he chooses. "I know being drafted is not the be-all, end-all, but just to get that recognition is great," Peca said. "It's a big confidence booster; you have some guidance over the next few years and I'm really happy it happened."

eerlendsson@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7835

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