Toby Petersen realizes he doesn’t fit the mold of the typical assistant coach in the American Hockey League.
At 36, the former Texas Stars center is one of the younger coaches in the league, and unlike many of his colleagues, Petersen didn’t work his way up from the ECHL or junior hockey.
“I realize I’m fortunate. I’m not taking any of this for granted,” Petersen said in a phone interview. “I didn’t really have a set plan about where to coach, but Columbus gave me an opportunity and I’m very thankful for that.”
The Columbus Blue Jackets hired Petersen as an assistant coach for the Springfield Falcons on July 14. The team made the announcement roughly a month after Petersen announced he was retiring during the Texas Stars’ public celebration of their AHL championship.
“Things kind of moved pretty quickly,” Petersen said. “When I made the decision that I was done (playing), I kept my ear open for coaching opportunities. Columbus had a spot, and I got the interview.”
Petersen’s résumé as a player includes 398 NHL games, including 243 with the Dallas Stars, but it was his final three AHL seasons with Texas that transformed him into a coaching candidate.
Even when he was battling injuries, Petersen was part of Texas’ leadership group, acting as an alternate captain from 2012-14. He also helped mentor some of the younger players, and former Texas coach Willie Desjardins held him up as a role model.
“I’m not surprised at all that he’s coaching now,” said Doug Lidster, a former Stars assistant coach who’s now an assistant with the Vancouver Canucks. “Toby is one of those great people in the game, and he always did things the right way.”
Petersen said he’s been working closely with the forwards in Springfield while fellow assistant coach Nolan Pratt has worked more with the defensemen.
“I’ve been working on a lot of individual skills with them,” Petersen said. “They’ve got a good group of young guys in the system, and it’s been fun to work with them.”
In addition to adjusting to a role behind the bench, Petersen also is becoming familiar with life in the AHL’s Eastern Conference.
“It’s a lot less overnight road trips, so I’m sleeping in my own bed a lot more (than in Texas),” Petersen said. “I’m actually putting in more hours as a coach, though. It’s been a nice adjustment (to coaching).”