Mormon hockey coach shows toughness in taking on Parkinson's

By Aaron Shill

Mormon Times

Published: Monday, April 18 2011 4:30 a.m. MDT

Along with hockey, family and faith have provided strength. Peterson, who is married with three children and until recently served on his stake's high council, says family support and "eternal possibilities" keep his challenges from overwhelming him.

"It certainly would be a lot harder to take," he said. "Someday I know I will be back with my family and be whole."

A tough, good guy

Barry Trotz knew he wasn't just getting a good coach, but a good guy.

Charged with leading the expansion club in Nashville, Trotz was looking for an assistant in 1998 and targeted the head coach of the Portland Winter Hawks, a junior hockey club that was playing its way to a Memorial Cup championship. He asked Peterson to fly out for an interview as soon as he could.

Once the season was over, Peterson got on a plane — but not before having back surgery and taking only two days to recover.

"I could tell right away that Brent was not only a good hockey guy, but was a terrific person," said Trotz, who along with Peterson has coached the Predators for 13 years. "He was just a genuine guy. He would just give me his best every day."

The team was "stunned" when Peterson finally revealed he had Parkinson's, Trotz says. The coach, not wanting his assistant to feel sorry for himself, told Peterson, "Just because you have Parkinson's, don't think that I'm going to let you off the hook."

Peterson just smiled and told Trotz that was a nice thing to say.

Those who know "Petey," as he is called in hockey circles, say he is defined by toughness, competitiveness and discipline. John Overmyer, a close friend and fellow Latter-day Saint, was playing golf with Peterson once when he noticed him breathing hard. When Overmyer asked what was wrong, Peterson said he was dealing with three broken ribs.

He's also been tough in the locker room. As rare as Mormons are in other professional sports, they're even more so in hockey. Throughout his playing and coaching career, Peterson has been questioned — and teased — about his faith, whether it's explaining why he doesn't drink or, more recently, about the BYU Honor Code. ("Hey, rules are rules," he tells them.)

"He's been a fabulous example in the way he lived and the toughness he showed, not only now but when he was playing," said Lynn Ellsworth, also a close friend and fellow Mormon. "His weaknesses are certainly nothing I know about."

Everyone knows Peterson is LDS, Overmyer says, and that's brought him respect. Throughout his career, teams have relied on Peterson to be an example for players, and he's made a difference in many lives.

"There's no doubt that Brent's a man's man, but he's probably one of the most Christlike people I've known," Overmyer said. "He's the kind of person that everyone likes. You can't help but like him."

Lifting others

When Trotz found out that a member of his church had been diagnosed with Parkinson's and wasn't doing so well, an introduction seemed in order.

He arranged for the man and his wife, who attended the same Christian congregation as the Predators coach, to meet Peterson following an afternoon hockey game.

They sat in the arena and chatted like they'd known each other for 25 years, Trotz says. Peterson was honest with the man, but said that when he cuts himself shaving or can't get to the top button on his shirt, all he can do is laugh.

The talk was inspiring, especially for the man's wife.

"It was so powerful for her to see someone who has Parkinson's who had such a positive attitude," Trotz said.

Ever since Fox told him to stop feeling sorry for himself and do something, Peterson has been lifting others affected by Parkinson's. He formed a foundation called Peterson for Parkinson's that raises money for research, primarily through an annual celebrity golf tournament.

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