Jeff Petry finds his success outside the family business

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MONTREAL -- A year ago, Dan Petry was sitting at home in Farmington Hills, Michigan, watching TV when he caught the pregame festivities from a Montreal Canadiens playoff game.

"I was just blown away by it," the former Detroit Tigers pitcher told ESPN.com Saturday. "They dimmed the lights, they would click on every banner of the retired numbers, and then they had the little young boys come out with the torch and touch the ice and it would turn to flames.

"I just remember calling Jeff and saying, 'You got to see this. This is unbelievable.'"

Little did he know that his son Jeff Petry just a year later would be playing for the Habs, and dad would get to watch the first two postseason games in the electric Bell Centre.

"And Ginette [Reno] singing the national anthem, I just couldn’t believe the atmosphere," said Dan Petry. "To witness it live now, there are no words. I teared up a little bit. It was just beautiful."

It meant a lot to Jeff Petry to have his parents take in the opening two games, as you might imagine.

"It was great," the Habs blueliner said on the eve of Sunday night’s Game 3 versus the Ottawa Senators. "I think he really enjoyed himself. I know he’ll be calling for future games and want to come back."

Of course, when you’re the son of Dan Petry, who went 18-8 as a starting pitcher for the 1984 World Series champion Tigers, winning 125 career games over 13 MLB seasons, choosing hockey over baseball is certainly noteworthy.

"My junior year in high school I stopped playing baseball and chose hockey as my path," said Jeff Petry. "I was always better at hockey and I enjoyed it more. I was more passionate about it."

His dad recalls his son being nervous about sharing that decision.

"He was afraid to tell me, and I don’t know why because when he was growing up I told him I didn’t care, I told him to do what he wanted. I told him he didn’t have to play baseball," said Dan Petry. "But he was afraid to tell me. My wife called me and told me Jeff didn’t want to play baseball anymore and was afraid to say anything to me. I said, 'That’s silly.' I came home, talked to him, and told him to follow his passion. That’s what he did."

Jeff’s brother Matt played baseball at the University of Michigan and today coaches at St. Mary’s high school in Orchard Lake, Michigan, where coincidentally Jeff played hockey in high school. Dan Petry is Matt’s assistant on the coaching staff for the ball team and is having a blast with that.

But for Jeff, it was hockey, which is not hard to believe when you’re growing up near a Detroit Red Wings dynasty in those years.

"[Steve] Yzerman, [Nicklas] Lidstrom, that probably helped things in terms of me being more passionate for hockey, having that kind of team in Detroit all those years," said Jeff Petry. "That was a big influence as well."

It’s almost impossible for Petry to not smile these days. His year began with the last-place Edmonton Oilers, his fifth season with the club, and once again a struggle for the team as it sank near the bottom of the standings.

Talk about night and day once he was traded to first-place Montreal on trade deadline day March 2.

"It’s completely different, it’s been unbelievable since I’ve been here," Petry said. "From the organization being first class, to the games at the Bell Centre, the environment ... everyone said it only gets better when the playoffs started, and you know, they weren’t lying."

These are his first playoffs, the Oilers’ struggles of the past several seasons preventing any such experience for the 27-year-old blueliner.

While there have been some trade deadline acquisitions that have struggled to integrate themselves with their new teams around the league, that certainly has not been the case for Petry, who over the stretch run and certainly in the opening two games of this playoff series has been a solid performer for the Habs.

"He's playing better than I thought," said one NHL scout who worked Friday’s game. "Makes a good first pass, moves well. He's not very physical but his mobility enables him to break up plays. Plays a smart game and can play on your second power play but not really a penalty killer because of his lack of physicality and being able to box guys out in front of the net or move guys out. The way he's playing right now he's a No. 4 D-man where I had him more of a No. 5 with Edmonton."

Playing the right side on the second defense pair with Alexei Emelin, Petry’s first pass out of his zone is rarely the wrong one. His defensive coverage has been consistently good. The Canadiens have got the player they wanted and perhaps even more than they bargained for.

"In the case of Petry, he’s playing the best hockey of his career. It’s as simple as that," Habs head coach Michel Therrien said in French on Saturday. "He’s really solid defensively, skates well, distributes the puck well, he’s able to jump up in the playoff offensively. He took about three weeks to adjust after he got here; teams do things differently which is normal, so there’s a period of adjustment for the player so that the team’s system becomes second nature to him. Since then, and I had a good chat with him before the playoffs, he feels really comfortable with the way we play and he’s able to raise his level of play within that."

Petry is an unrestricted free agent July 1 and no doubt the Habs will want to at least have a conversation with the player’s agent, Wade Arnott of Newport Sports, between the end of the season and before the start of free agency.

But that conversation will wait until then.

"Yeah, my focus is on hockey; it’s the big time of the year. I don’t want anything from the outside coming," said Jeff Petry. "We’ll just play out the year and see what happens."

His father is hoping that season ends with a championship for his son and the Canadiens. Imagine being able to say your family has won both a World Series title and a Stanley Cup?

"Oh my, I tell you what, it would be pretty special to have the opportunity to take a picture with the World Series trophy and the Stanley Cup, I’ll tell you that," chuckled Dan Petry. "That would really be something."

Petry pauses before adding just how thrilled he is to see his son part of this.

"You know, Montreal was so close last year," said Dan Petry. "I’m not a hockey guy, but I could just sense they wanted it so bad. And now it’s just so lucky for Jeff to be around players in a situation like that where you can see the drive. To be thrown into that with such a wonderful group, that’s one of those opportunities you need to take advantage of."