UPCOMING EVENT: TOYOTA SERIES - 2020 - Dale Hollow Lake

In the Spotlight: NHL's Mike Peluso

In the Spotlight: NHL's Mike Peluso
?Fishing and hockey complement each other pretty well.? - NHL player and RCL competitor Mike Peluso (Photo submitted)

Mike Peluso

Years fishing: 24.
Favorite lure: "Without a doubt, the Lindy Fuzz-e-Grub."
Favorite fishing holes: The Missouri River and Lake Sakakawea.
Fishing buddies: Boyhood friend Ryan Thompson and father, Jim, "... whenever I can get him off the golf course."
Biggest walleye: 11 pounds from the Missouri River
Most memorable fishing day: "There was one day during the year I tore my ACL - it was right before the spawn on the Mississippi River - when I stumbled into the mother lode. Every fish was 25 inches, with the biggest fish going 32. It was nonstop action."
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Bismarck, N.D., the mid-1970s. A toddler is supine at center ice, wearing hockey skates, pads and helmet, clutching a bottle. His mother, who works at the rink, has put him there, all alone, while she does her job. "Mike's playpen," she calls it. There's not much in the way of skating by the boy, more scrambling and clambering and crawling. "By the time he made it from the middle of the ice to the chicken wire around the rink, his bottle was empty," his mother, Margaret, recalls.

Flash forward to a wet, miserable September day on the Missouri River in 1986. Mike Peluso, now a teenager, and his father, Jim, endure the elements to fish for walleyes well into the afternoon. When they call it quits and stop at a gas station outside town, two professional anglers in Bismarck for a championship event are huddled under a canopy out of the slanting rain. As his father chats with them, Mike watches from the truck, admiring their fancy boat and noticing their Minnesota license plates. A few days later, Jim shows the pair, Bruce Samson and Jerry Anderson, a thing or two about the Missouri. A few days after that, the duo takes the tourney's first-place prize.

"That was my first taste of going to weigh-ins," Mike says. "It was pretty exciting knowing that Dad had guided for these guys who had won what was at the time the biggest walleye tournament. I thought, `That's what I want to do.'"

In fact, even in his formative years, Peluso wanted to do that as well as something else - play in the National Hockey League. Today, at 27, Peluso's twin missions are accomplished. By winter he's a right-winger for the Chicago Blackhawks; by summer, he's a pro walleye angler who competes in tournaments as the off-season allows. The rink-cum-river rat has come of age, but not without the dedication to run down dreams of seeming polarity and surprising equilibrium.

"I love both sports so much that when the hockey season does approach, when training camp rolls around, by that time I'm pretty much burned out on fishing, believe it or not, because I spend so much time and energy concentrating on it in the summer," Peluso says. "By the time summer's done, I'm ready for a change and ready to get into hockey. To be very honest with you, by the time the playoffs are done, I'm tired of hockey.

"So I'm able to stay competitive in the summer and not beat myself up. When you're playing in the winter, it's a pretty physical and demanding sport. There are a lot of nights where you wonder if you're going to be able to move in the morning. Someway, somehow, you get yourself moving and do whatever it takes to get ready to play the next night.

"Fishing and hockey complement each other pretty well."

Peluso's ostensibly uncommon but complementary pairing of passions dates back almost as far as anyone can remember. To wit, one of the player/angler's schoolteachers recently gave Peluso's parents written evidence, a paper their son had penned long ago of his hoped-for career path.

"All along Mike's dream was to play in the NHL, whether it was one game or a hundred," his father says. "In third grade he wrote how he distinctly wanted to be a pro hockey player and a pro fisherman."

You could say that Peluso's parents are responsible for planting the seeds of sport in a young man's mind. Both Margaret and Jim worked at the community ice rink in Bismarck, his father coaching the high-school hockey team. In the winter, their son was always there. But once the frozen season gave way to open water on the Missouri, father and son were found chasing walleyes on 40 miles of river. Margaret's rule to her husband: If you want to go fishing, you have to take Mike. It was a done deal.

"When I was growing up, that guy never left me at home," Peluso says. "Honest to God, on a five-day school week, we were out fishing every night. My Dad would pull the boat to school and wait for me to get out. Those are unbelievable memories."

And in summertime, when Peluso was "mature" enough at age 13, Jim dropped his son and friends off at the river daily, launching the boat for the boys before they could drive. "They were going to get into a lot less trouble on the river than being idle in town," Jim says.

After a stellar hockey career at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, where he ranks eighth all-time in goals and 16th in scoring, Peluso was drafted by the Calgary Flames in 1994 and shortly thereafter was traded to the Washington Capitols. It wasn't more than a few years before he ran into trouble on the ice in the American Hockey League, a farm system for the NHL.

Digging for a puck not long before a probable call-up to the NHL, the AHL all-star was on the receiving end of a hard but clean hit. "It was an innocent play along the boards," Peluso says. "I got checked, our knees collided and it tore my ACL. It's not a common injury in hockey, but it does happen."

After surgery to reorient his knee in Portland, Maine, where he played for the Pirates and gained all-star acclaim, Peluso returned home for rehab under the governance of an advanced training facility at St. Alexis Medical Center. Each morning he rebuilt the knee first then headed straight for the river, undaunted by injury.

"He was never depressed," Margaret says. "He went to therapy every day and was even more gung-ho about his dream coming true. In grade school, he'd sit in the boat with his dad and say, `I'm going to be a pro hockey player and a pro fisherman.' His dad said, `Yeah, right.' By jiminy, he did it. If you dream about it and want it bad enough, you can make it happen."

Ultimately, after rehab and another trade, this time to the Chicago Blackhawks, Peluso made it to the NHL at the start of the 2001 season. It's a place with special meaning for him since a cousin with the same name - Mike Peluso - and an uncle both played for the Hawks.

Now Peluso, ever adjusting to the situation, is more a role player rather than a scoring machine, which at this point suits the rookie fine. "Right now, I'm out there not to get scored on and to chip in a goal or two here and there," says Peluso, who scored 19 points by mid-January. "I'm playing on the third line, which is more of a defensive, energy-type line than it is a top scoring line.

"All the way growing up, in college and through the minor pros, I was always counted on as the go-to guy as far as scoring. You know, this is a little bit different role than I'm accustomed to, but I'm adjusting to it very well and it's very rewarding. When you're done with the game, you've generated a lot of energy and kept the other guys off the scoreboard. It's a really satisfying feeling."

Satisfying, too, have been his adventures in professional fishing. Last summer, in a major competition on Lake Sakakawea, Peluso took a highly respectable 12th out of a field of well over 100. This year he plans to compete in FLW Outdoors' Wal-Mart RCL Walleye Circuit tournaments on Saginaw Bay, Mich., and Lake Winnebago, Wis., out of a Lund boat powered by a Yamaha outboard.

None of his peers are counting him out - and all have even greater expectations of him in the future. "The more he fishes around the country, the tougher he'll get," says RCL pro angler and friend Rick LaCourse, Oregon, Ohio. "God help us when he retires from hockey. He's going to be one of the toughest competitors by far. He has a sixth sense how to work fish out of structure. He's like a surgeon. You come from behind him and it's like following a gillnet."

Nor are his fellow fishermen underestimating him on the ice. "It won't surprise me if he could elevate himself in the NHL to the level of an Amonte (All-Star Tony Amonte, Chicago Blackhawks) or a Shanahan (All-Star Brendan Shanahan, Detroit Redwings)," says longtime family friend and pro angler Marty Glorvigen. "If someone asked him if this would happen, with his being so humble, he would say, `I worked hard and I'm lucky.' But in the back of his mind, he had a plan how this could happen.

"It's kind of grandiose to say you're going to be a pro hockey player and a pro fisherman. But he's had the plan since high school. He's run the scenario over and over in his head and has had a steadfast plan of where he's going."

Going in two directions at once, you might say. But it's nothing new to Peluso, who has had the confidence to overcome injury and the improbability of careers in two professional sports. Perhaps his is a rare talent to have endured the rigors of both.

"The position I play, right wing, is a goal scorer," Peluso says. "But the goals don't come easily. You have to get yourself in the right position to make things happen and score. A lot of that's true when you're fishing. You've got to be patient, put yourself in the right spot and wait for the right bite."

Tags: dave-scroppo  article 

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