By Stu Cowan
Montreal Canadiens ace Jeff Petry comes across as the type of guy you’d want your daughter to marry.
When being interviewed, Petry is calm, cool and collected. He’s thoughtful in his answers. The 6-foot-3, 210-pound defenseman is also very intelligent – both on and off the ice – and he’s humble, which is refreshing in any pro athlete and especially one who is the son of a famous MLB player. Petry’s father, Dan, was a pitcher for 13 seasons in the majors and helped the Detroit Tigers win the 1984 World Series.
“He’s a smart guy, so when he speaks, it always makes sense, and when he speaks with his teammates, it’s the same thing,” said Canadiens coach Dominique Ducharme. “So in that sense, he brings kind of a quiet leader, intelligent leader.”
Off the ice, Petry and his wife, Julie, have laid down firm roots in Montreal in the six years since the Habs acquired the defenseman from Edmonton. Jeff and Julie met when they were attending Michigan State University – he was on the hockey team and she was on the field hockey team – and they now have a full family life with
three young sons, Boyd, Barrett and Bowen.
Since being acquired by the Canadiens, Petry has twice turned down the opportunity to become a free agent to instead re-sign with Montreal. The 33-year-old is now heading into the first season of a four-year, $25-million contract extension signed last September.
“Proud, excited, and grateful for (Jeff) and our family’s opportunity to get to stay in Montreal for the next five years,” Julie wrote on her Instagram account at the time. “It’s crazy to think how much has happened since that last picture I took five years ago…as Jeff signed his first deal with Montreal, compared to the second one I took as he signed his extension yesterday…Realizing we will be raising our boys during this next part of our hockey journey at an age they will actually remember their dad vividly playing for THE Montreal Canadiens makes us feel proud, and not to be taken for granted.”
Petry has been relied upon heavily as a source of consistent offense from the back end in Montreal, posting 157 assists in 440 games as a Hab. That leads Montreal skaters since 2014-15. He will have an even bigger role to fill this season – both on and off the ice – with captain Shea Weber expected to miss the entire campaign because of injuries, and his future murky at best beyond that. Petry already led the team in ice time last season, averaging 22:44 per game, slightly ahead of Weber’s 22:42.
With Weber out, Petry becomes the Canadiens’ undisputed No. 1 defenseman. He’ll be tasked with leading a new-look defense corps that brought in stalwart David Savard as its marquee free-agent acquisition. Savard’s deal is for four years – meaning it will expire at the same time Petry’s does – and carries a decidedly lighter $3.5-million AAV. Other newcomers include Sami Niku and journeyman puck-mover Chris Wideman, both of whom took one-year, $750,000 deals.
Petry can also play a mentorship role for young Alexander Romanov, who impressed in 54 regular-season games but was a healthy scratch in all but four playoff contests last year.
“Filling (Weber’s) void on the ice is going to require I think myself along with the rest of the ‘D’ (to) kind of take a step forward and there’s going to be a little bit more I think on everybody’s plate,” Petry said. “Whether that’s filling that hole on the power play, penalty kill and things like that. I think the toughest part would be the leadership that (Weber) brought to the room and to our group. So that’s obviously going to fall on a lot of us as well to be more vocal, just be more of a presence in the room.”
That imposition will be even more significant after the early October announcement that Carey Price, another Habs leader, would be entering the player assistance program and would be temporarily unavailable.
Petry played a crucial role in the Canadiens’ run to the Stanley Cup final last season while playing in pain. During Game 3 of the second-round series against the Winnipeg Jets, Petry broke the pinky finger on his right hand on a freak play at the Bell Centre. While being checked by Paul Stastny, Petry’s hand got stuck in the hole in the glass cut out for photographers.
Petry’s finger was casted, and he only missed two games before returning to the lineup with some scary-looking bloodshot eyes that looked like something from a Halloween movie.
“The eyes were all because when they were setting my finger back into place to put the cast on, I basically passed out and popped all the blood vessels in my eyes,” Petry said.
Petry’s hand has healed, and he’s ready for his new role with the Canadiens. His role at home, though, is the same. There, he’s still dad.
This article originally appeared in The Hockey News' Numbers Issue.