By Jason Feldman
ROCHESTER, Minn. — Vince Pedrie’s parents didn’t force him to play hockey.
But they gave him every opportunity to play a sport that he eventually fell in love with.
“Long story short,” Pedrie said with a laugh, “the night my mom was giving birth to me, Dad was building a rink in the backyard in the middle of January.”
Pedrie has come a long way from the backyard rinks of his youth.
The 25-year-old who to this day lists Rochester, Minn., as his hometown, signed a one-year contract last week with the Tucson Roadrunners of the American Hockey League. The Roadrunners are the top minor-league affiliate of the NHL’s Arizona Coyotes.
“Obviously, my goal is still to play in the NHL one day,” said Pedrie, a 6-foot, 195-pound left-shot defenseman. “This season I want to be a big factor in every game I play. I want to play an important role, whatever that role is, and contribute to the team every night.
“If I miss a game due to an injury, I want my teammates to notice I wasn’t there.”
Growing up around hockey
Pedrie is 25 years old, but his hockey career – and life, for that matter – have been the definition of a long and winding road. Well, the winding part, for sure.
His father, Larry, is the current Hockey Director for the Team Illinois Tier I-AAA Midget program based in the Chicago suburb of Woodridge, Ill. Much like his son, hockey has been Larry Pedrie’s life. The Detroit native played Division I college hockey at Ferris State, before spending 15 years as a Division I college coach, including six as the head coach at the University of Illinois-Chicago, which dropped its program in 1996.
“He never forced me to go play,” Vince said, “but I think ‘hockey’ was the first word I spoke. It was just embedded in me.
“His background and knowledge of the game, it helped me so much. He was always my coach, but never treated me like the coach’s son when we were at the rink. Sometimes he took it even harder on me.”
All of his dad’s job changes meant a lot of moving around. But he said it was something he looked forward to.
Finding a ‘home’ in Rochester
Vince lived in Aurora, Ill., a short drive southwest of Chicago, until he was 14.
His mom, Jodie, is originally from Rochester (a John Marshall grad) and his grandparents, John and Linda Nock, still live here.
Vince came to Minnesota to play his sophomore and junior years of high school hockey at Apple Valley, before moving on to play for four USHL teams during his four seasons in the league.
“During that time, our family was moving around a lot as Dad moved around a lot,” Vince said. “We ended up buying a house in Rochester to be close to my grandparents. When I was moving around, playing for all these different USHL teams, they’d always ask me where I’m from.
“I’d always say ‘I’m not really sure, but I have a permanent address in Rochester.’ I trained there for a few summers, met a bunch of guys who played (high school) there – guys like (former Lourdes players) Pete Spratte and Alec Brandrup, and (former Century and University of Minnesota goalie) Brock Kautz. I still keep in touch with a lot of them.”
Pedrie played four seasons in the country’s top junior hockey league, the USHL, suiting up for Omaha, Indiana, Bloomington and Tri-City at various times between 2011 and 2015. Then he landed in Division I hockey, finding a home and a leadership role for the upstart Penn State University program.
He earned Second Team All-Big Ten honors as a freshman in 2015-16, then First Team All-Big Ten honors as a sophomore the following season.
“I always make the joke that my two years at Penn State, it was the longest I’d stayed in one place in my life,” he said by phone on Monday while working out with former college teammates and current PSU players in State College, Pa. “But I loved playing there. It says a lot that I choose to go back and spend my summers here.”
The NHL came calling after his sophomore season, and Pedrie signed with the New York Rangers.
He spent parts of three seasons with the Rangers’ AHL affiliate in Hartford (Conn.) before being released last season and catching on with Nashville’s AHL affiliate in Milwaukee.
“I don’t regret leaving Penn State,” he said. “Maybe I could’ve stayed one more year. Hindsight is 20/20 and you can go through the coulda-shoulda, but I don’t look back and regret it. I was 23, playing in the NHL had been a dream of mine since I was 4.
“The hard part was leaving my friends at (PSU), guys I’d grown to love so quickly.”
Now Pedrie is getting a fresh start after signing with Tucson.
It’s one of the few times in his career he’s been able to pick where he wants to play. And he’s excited about living and playing in a warm climate for once.
“It’s a new start, a new organization,” he said. “They signed me for a reason. They know my skill set and they expect me to play to that.
“And I’m pumped to finally play in some warm weather.”