Jeff Petry is a Red Wing thanks to the Tigers: "Wanted to play here my whole life"


Jeff Petry has spent most of his life dreaming about his new reality. As a kid who grew up watching the Red Wings win Stanley Cups, Petry fantasized about "wearing that jersey," he said. And even when he made it to the NHL as a second-round pick out of Michigan State, even as he played five years in Edmonton, eight in Montreal and one in Pittsburgh, he harbored thoughts of "wanting to play one year here, maybe at the end of my career."

"You keep thinking in your head, 'OK, what is that opportunity going to come? Can it come?'" Petry said.

It came this week when Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman, one of those legends Petry used to cheer for at the The Joe, brought the 35-year-old defenseman back to Detroit. The Wings acquired him from the Canadiens in exchange for Gustav Lindstrom and a future fourth-round pick; Petry will add a dependable presence to a suddenly deep blueline in Detroit.

"To get that call that you’re coming home to play for the team that you watched growing up, to be able to put on this jersey, it means a lot," Petry said. "It’s a very special moment."

It wouldn't been possible without his dad putting on a different jersey, in the same city. Dan Petry, a California native, was drafted by the Tigers out of high school in 1976. He'd go on to pitch 11 seasons in Detroit, helping the Tigers win the World Series in 1984 and making the All-Star Game a year later. Dan Petry and his wife, also from California, grew so comfortable in Detroit that they chose to raise their family in the area when Dan retired in 1991. At the time, Jeff was four.

"Both my parents being from California, it was, 'What can we put our two boys in that is going to keep them busy year-round?'" Jeff Petry recalled. "So it was baseball all summer and my dad knew nothing about hockey, but knew that it was big in Michigan. And that was his reason for putting us into hockey."

Jeff Petry fell hard for the fast-paced game that was foreign to his father, and wound up playing for Little Caesars at Joe Louis Arena. He laughed that while his dad always had a critique about his performance on the diamond -- Jeff was mostly a first baseman -- he rarely had a clue what was happening on the ice. On their way out of the rink after games, Dan would ask Jeff how he played, Jeff would say he played well, and Dan would shrug his shoulders and say, "Alright."

"He just didn’t know anything," said Jeff.

Except for that his son loved the sport. When Jeff decided to give up baseball in high school to pour himself into hockey, he was initially hesitant to tell his dad. He even told his baseball coach first, who called Dan ahead of time to help Jeff broach the conversation. Of course, Dan was thrilled to see Jeff chasing the same dreams as the players who adorned his bedroom walls. Jeff was an especially big fan of Nicklas Lidstrom and Vladimir Konstantinov. Who in HockeyTown wasn't? Now he'll patrol the blueline that used to be theirs.

For as far as hockey has come in California, Jeff may never have fallen in love with the game had he not been raised in Detroit. Even if he had, he wouldn't have found the same opportunities to pursue it. Perhaps he would have made it all the same, but he wouldn't have grown so attached to the idea of playing for the Red Wings. When the Canadiens alerted him of a potential trade this summer and asked him for a list of preferred destinations, Jeff Petry wouldn't have said, "Detroit was the No. 1 spot on my list."

"I want to play here and I’ve wanted to my whole life," he said.

He was born in Ann Arbor, raised in Grosse Point and Farmington Hills and reared, in many respects, in rinks across Michigan. Now he has a chance to finish his career where it began, a hockey player thanks to a dad who played baseball, a Red Wing thanks to the Tigers, No. 46 in Detroit just like Dan.

"He could’ve been drafted by the Angels and played the majority of his career in California," said Jeff. "What he did with his career and the Tigers and then liking Detroit so much that he retired here has given me the opportunity to grow up playing hockey."

Which can mean only one thing. With four young sons of his own, Jeff Petry has a ballplayer or two to raise for Detroit.

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