Christopher Wuensch, CWuensch@ExplorerNews.com
Dec. 7, 2005 - The pack of trading cards does not come with the chalky pink slab of chewing gum that used to await an eager hobbyist when first opening a pack. But a quick rifle through the 36-card set of this year's University of Arizona men's hockey team - passing the ones of celebrity honorary Icecats actors Robert Loggia and Max Baer Jr. and Boston Red Sox manager Terry Francona - reveals another kind of fading nostalgia, one that only knocks out the teeth of opposing players.
The players are D.J. and Mike Pelletier, and their cards read a little differently from those of their teammates' under the category of hometown. Where others claim hockey havens such as Michigan, Minnesota and New Hampshire as home, the Pelletier brothers residence doesn't stray far from the "Madhouse on Main" habitat of the Icecats.
Although their hockey roots stretch across the country to Massachusetts, where they first laced up a pair of skates some 20 years ago, D.J., 25, and Mike, 23, are fully vested Tucsonans since adopting Tucson as their adopted hometown six years ago.
"For me it's a lot easier to say that Tucson is now my home," said D.J. who added that the entire Pelletier family is now living in the area.
The Oro Valley-based brothers are the only local players on an otherwise eclectic team of rink rats hailing from 14 different states. Despite the pedigree of teammates, the Brothers Pelletier are both the co-captains and the heart of the popular UA program.
"You keep coaching because of people like Mike and D.J.," said Icecats head coach Leo Golembiewski. "They are like family."
Behind the pair of offensive defensemen, the Icecats are off to a 10-3 start on the season.
This year will be the last with the Icecats for D.J. and Mike, who will run out of eligibility at season's end. Their goal for this year is to return the traditionally strong team back to prominence after slipping a bit over the last two years.
They'll do so by leading a melting pot of inexperienced talent on a freshmen-laden squad.
"We're certainly America's college hockey team," said Golembiewski, who spent his playing days in the St. Louis Blues organization and was once considered a protégé of NHL Hall-of-Fame coach Scotty Bowman. "I don't think there's a college roster in the country that has 14 different states. Our fans are from 50 different states."
Those rabid fans have made the Icecats the third most popular spectator sport at the UA and, in the process, have adopted the Pelletier brothers as their own. The duo always gets the loudest cheers when the starting lineups are introduced.
With roots in both New England and Pima County, the Pelletier brothers see similarities between both hockey worlds where others may not.
"It's the lifestyle," said Mike describing Tucson. "It's kind of hard-nosed, blue-collar town when you look at it, and that's what hockey is."
For D.J., who joined the team a year after his brother, it was love at first face-off as a spectator. Like most Tucsonans, D.J. wasn't sure what to expect from a hockey team based in the desert.
"That was the part that surprised me," he said, "because you hear Tucson you hear hock ey, what's the joke?"
Despite manning the blue-line on defense for the Icecats, the Pelletier brothers grew up in the Boston area idolizing the most explosive offensive player in hockey history - Wayne Gretzky. So much so that the "Great One," who coaches and owns the Phoenix Coyotes up the road, has become somewhat of a role model.
"He just epitomized what a hockey player should be," said D.J. "He didn't have a lot of the physical aspect, but he was just so smart."
When it comes to size, D.J. has the edge over his younger brother at 6-feet 2-inches and 200 pounds.
Mike is the one with the scoring touch. Through the Icecats first seven games this year, the junior had four goals and 10 assists - enough (91) to put him just shy of 100 points for his four-year playing career at the UA. That total could have been higher but a mid-season concussion last year kept him out of the lineup for the second half of the year.
D.J. has found the back of the net 10 times in his three-year stint with the Icecats, collecting 38 points overall.
Both brothers also have the knack for finding the penalty box. The two lead the team in penalty minutes, with Mike's 44 to D.J.'s 30.
Chalk it up to their rambunctious style of play or a more mature sense of the ice. D.J., at 25, is the oldest player on the team followed by Mike, 23, who who is younger than his older brother by two years and a day.
It's not uncommon in the American Collegiate Hockey Association for players to be a little older than most in-coming freshman. Of the 26 players on the team, 19 are over the age of 20 and only three of the 13 freshmen are 18.
"The best collegiate clubs teams in the ACHA," said Golembiewski, who founded the Icecats 27 years ago, "everybody has 20 and 21-year-old freshmen that have played junior hockey who have gone away from home when they were 17. You need a fire in your belly because there is a method to the madness about this game."
D.J. spent several years working and playing at a small college in the New England - where he used his first year of eligibility - before joining his brother on the Icecats.
Once their collegiate careers are over in March, Mike hopes to catch on with a semi-pro or professional team, even if it means traveling to Europe to do so. D.J. would like to get into coaching and has hinted that he'd like to join the Icecat staff.