Just a few hours before the Tewksbury Memorial High School team took the ice in the sectional semi-final game against Danvers, a story came across social media announcing that former Redmen star player Derek Petti — who just this past weekend finished up a terrific career at Merrimack College — has signed a professional standard-contract to play for the Adirondack Thunder. The organization is based out of Glens Falls, New York and are the ECHL affiliate of the New Jersey Devils.
Reached Wednesday morning, Petti was asked about how and when this incredible opportunity came about, and how he's going to be able to juggle the professional life with the remaining few months of his academics.
"This happened a couple weeks ago," he said. "They showed interest and it’s a great spot to come play and try and move up, so it was an easy decision. I got here Monday and will be playing (Wednesday) at home against Worcester.
“With help from past and present coaches and my advisor, who I can’t thank enough, made this opportunity possible. My remaining classes with Merrimack will be getting finished as I play, my professors and I are on the same page. I will go back to Merrimack to finish school and graduate when the season is over."
The business major had previously been named to the Hockey East All-Academic team in his first three years with the program.
Petti will become the first Tewksbury resident to appear in the ECHL since Patrick Cullity, who spent from 2009-2018 bouncing between various teams from the ECHL and AHL. His professional career came after he played four years in Hockey East as well, but at the University of Vermont.
"This is a great opportunity," said Petti. "The (Thunder) play with a dedicated fan base, great facilities and a great team. I understand its a new level of hockey, so I am taking it day-by-day and want to get better each day that I am here.
“It's not something I truly thought about until this past season with Merrimack. I realized I wanted to pursue my dream and continue my hockey career. I am very grateful for this opportunity and will be making the best out of it."
On Saturday night, Merrimack ended its season with a 5-1 loss to Boston University, bringing the team's overall record to 7-24-3. Despite the team's lack of wins, Petti, 23, had his strongest season of his career. The assistant captain was one of Merrimack's top centers over the last four years, leading this year's team with a 52.3 percentage on draws. He also factored in playing on the team's power play and at even strength, finishing the season with 7 goals and 11 assists in just 28 games.
For his career, he appeared in 127 games, logging 49 points on the strength of 20 goals and 29 assists. He had 12 blocked shots this year, as well.
On Sunday morning, the team held its end of the year banquet and Petti took away two awards. According to a press release by MC, "Petti was presented the Strength and Conditioning Award by Assistant Athletic Director for Strength and Conditioning Mike Kamal, which is given annually to the player who has elevated his game to play at an elite level throughout his work and dedication to the strength and conditioning program on and off the ice.
"He was also presented the Unsung Hero Award, an honor bestowed to the player who exemplifies perseverance, enthusiasm, dedication and hard work throughout the season and takes into account the work ethic and determination that he has shown in all facets of the game."
Petti was asked about his time at MC and didn't hesitate for one second saying how much he enjoyed his four years, despite the team's sub .500 records each of his four years, including 13-19-7, 15-16-6, 12-21-4 and then 7-24-3.
"I loved my career at Merrimack; it was very special," he said. "Playing in Hockey East was an amazing experience, playing great teams every weekend. I enjoyed everything about the school, all the way from the community to the classroom. The thing I remember or should say enjoyed the most, was the amount of great teammates I came across. Not only were they great players, but they were great people and those relationships will last a lifetime.
“I learned to be more consistent each season with Merrimack. A lot of people helped me get there and to this point so I learned a lot from different people along the way. Merrimack will always hold a special place in my heart."
Before joining the MC team, Petti played four years at TMHS and then went on to play two years of junior hockey with the Middlesex Black Bears.
At TMHS, during his sophomore year, he was part of the team's Division 2 State Championship title, which included his oldest brother Mark scoring the game winning goal in overtime.
Derek went on to finish with 130 career points, which ranks him in the top five all-time, while another brother Ryan broke the all-time record, which was held for several decades by longtime coach Derek Doherty, who today is coaching the fourth Petti brother, Justin.
The four brothers have played hockey all of their lives with their wonderful parents Mark and Donna watching them grow as athletes and more importantly as people. Their Dad introduced them to the game, when he built a hockey rink in their back yard.
In addition to the 130 career points, Derek Petti was a three-time all-conference selection, a two-time Boston Herald All-Scholastic, the Lowell Sun Player of the Year, the TMHS and Town Crier Male Athlete of the Year, and was part of two league championship teams. He was also a key member of the TMHS Golf team.
After graduating from TMHS, he went on to the Black Bears and led the team in scoring both years.
"Derek deserves this and hopefully he can build off of (going to the ECHL)," said Doherty after his team defeated Danvers in Tuesday night's game. "I think he’s an exceptional player and hopefully he can make the jump and eventually get to the AHL.
“I just think that he’s that type of player. I said a long time ago that Derek is a big, strong, lefty who is ready for that next level."
The Thunder have three home games this week — two against the Worcester Railers on Wednesday and Friday evenings before the Manchester Monarchs come to town Saturday night to finish Stick It To Cancer Weekend. The team has 14 regular season games this season.
For the latest Thunder news you can follow Petti and the team on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @ECHLThunder.