Peca Returns Early

Archived from 2002-03 season.

NHL teams

The New York Islanders received a pleasant surprise as their captain Michael Peca returned to the lineup a full month ahead of schedule.

Peca took the opening faceoff but stayed on the ice for just 27 seconds as the Islanders lost 6-1 to the St. Louis Blues.

He played for the first time since tearing a knee ligament on April 26 when he was hit by Toronto's Darcy Tucker in the first round of the playoffs. He wasn't scheduled to return until December.

"Everything felt fine," Peca said. "I'm playing with a new knee and new shoulder, and I have to get used to the rigors of contact hockey."

Peca's comeback was kept a secret until minutes before he took the opening faceoff in an obvious effort to spark the struggling Islanders, who fell to 3-7-1 for the season.

"We were left in the dark about this," Islanders right wing Steve Webb said. "He was sworn to secrecy. He gave his word he wouldn't tell any of us. He looks like he's in top shape."

Islanders coach Peter Laviolette said having Peca in the lineup was his decision.

"We just wanted to get him in the locker room and on the ice," Laviolette said. "The decision came from me."

The Islanders lost for the fifth time in six games and are currently in the last place of the Atlantic division.

"There isn't a guy in this room who is playing as well as he can,"Islanders goalie Chris Osgood said about Peca. "This probably is the most embarrassing game I played in my career."

Peca was happy to be back, but still frustrated not to be able play more than one shift.

"It's harder to be on the bench because you're closer to the guys and you can feel their emotions," Peca said. "When you're down here and not upstairs, you want to try to do a little more, and you feel you can do more."

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