September 26, 2017

Legends of Team Canada: Jim Peplinski

Jim Peplinski was always a fan favorite in Calgary. He was well spoken and genuine, always accessible to the media, to the fans and to the community.

Drafted 75th overall by the Flames in 1980, he started out as a promising center. In his 2nd season, with top centers Kent Nilsson and Guy Chouinard injured for lengthy periods of time, Peplinski stepped up nicely with a 30 goal, 67 point, 115 PIM season. But as the team's depth grew the team into a league powerhouse, Peplinski found himself playing a lot of wing. He played the left side with proficiency, providing a physical element along the boards. Blessed with great balance on his blades he would out-muscle opponents for the puck

He was a notable fighter, too. The website DropYourGloves.com has document 124 career NHL fights for Pepper. He was never considered to be a true heavyweight, but he showed up and could handle himself quite well. He was strong as an ox. 

That strength literally powered every aspect of Peplinski's game. He surprised many people with bursts of speeds because of his big legs. He lacked agility, so his favorite move was to try to get a step on the defender on the outside and then power his way to the net on the inside. It was a thing of beauty when it worked.

His hands were far from the softest on the team, so Peplinski, a cousin of fellow NHLer Larry Trade, never put up any eye-catching offensive totals. In 711 career games he scored 161 times, set up 263 others for 424 points. Those numbers put him on par with contemporaries like Mike Foligno, Stan Smyl and Ryan Walter - all similar players, too. 

Pepper was far from a star, but he was a valuable teammate and leader. He was said to have been one of coach Bob Johnson's favorite players.

Even with all his rugged play Peplinski was about as durable as they come. He missed only 26 regular season games between 1980 and 1989, essentially his entire career. The life-long Flame played just a few games in 1989-90 and, shockingly, in 1995 in a brief comeback attempt.

Of those 26 missed games, five of them came in 1988 when he was actually released to participate in the Olympics. The 1988 Olympic games were held in Calgary, of course. New IOC rules allowed professionals to play in the Olympics, but the NHL was still a few years away from accommodating their stars to go the grandest sporting stage. But a few clubs allowed some players leave to participate in the first ever Canadian Winter Olympics.  Peplinski joined the national team and contributed 1 assist in 7 games. Unfortunately Canada did not reach the podium that year in hockey.

"I was a little embarassed to go," said Peplinski. "I didn't make the same commitment that some of these other guys had made. I found it difficult. It's not like going to another team in a trade. We displaced guys."

Because of NHL commitments, he arrived after the tournament already started. He barely got to practice with the team and barely knew the system before it was all said and done. 

"If I had to describe it in a word, I would say it was a blur. It comes and goes and you are left saying `Wow'."

Peplinski's other career highlight came in 1989 when he was one of three captains (Lanny McDonald and Doug Risebrough) to lead the Flames to their first ever Stanley Cup championship! Though he would start the following season by playing 6 games, he quickly retired (leaving an estimated $500,000 in guaranteed salary with nearly 3 years left on his contract) saying he had reached the pinnacle with the Stanley Cup, and he wanted to go out on top.

Peplinski went on to do a lot of media work after his playing days, most notably with Hockey Night In Canada. But he left that behind to build an impressive business resume in the city of Calgary. His company owns nine car dealerships, and he is also an investor in the oil industry. His work has helped him return to the NHL as the Calgary Flames hired him as their Vice President of Business Development.

He also remained heavily involved in many Calgary charitable endeavours, such as Special Olympics and Big Brothers. He also can be found at many Flames alumni events.

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