The Once and Future Rivals

Defensemen Petrecki and Cohen skate into Columbus on opposite sides

June 19, 2007

By Elliot Olshansky



Elliot is's hockey editor and runs his Rink Rat hockey blog on
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Nick Petrecki grew up in New York's Capital District, around Albany, rooting for the New York Rangers.


Colby Cohen grew up on Philadelphia's Main Line, cheering for his hometown Flyers, who have faced the Rangers 10 times in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and share with the Blueshirts their own hard-fought chapter in the New York-Philadelphia sports rivalry. 


That was only the beginning.




As the 2007 NHL Entry Draft approaches, don't be surprised to see the two Hockey East-bound defensemen wind up on opposite sides of one of the NHL's many storied rivalries, be it Boston-Montreal, Calgary-Edmonton, or their own Rangers and Flyers. After all, that seems to be the way of things have gone.


Whatever happens this weekend at the draft in Columbus, Petrecki will arrive this fall at Boston College, where he'll play for one of college hockey's most decorated coaches in Jerry York. 


"My parents took me to a Beanpot when I was four or five," Petrecki said, "and I liked the maroon and gold uniforms. It kind of stuck with me. The further on up the ladder I got, I kept going to Beanpots with my whole family, and I was always in Boston. My mom's originally from West Roxbury, so the more I moved up, the more I got to see them to play. I went on a visit there, BU and a couple of other places, and felt like I was welcome there the most."


Cohen, meanwhile, will be just down the street, less than four miles further down Commonwealth Avenue, playing for the equally accomplished Jack Parker at Boston University.


"I like the coaching staff and the rink," Cohen said. "I saw Agganis Arena when it was being built, and they have a really unbelievable coaching staff. The other thing is that my mom went there, so I always kind of wanted to go there."


The college choices Petrecki and Cohen have set them against each other in one of college hockey's most storied rivalries, one that spans 238 games, NCAA tournaments, conference championships, and of course, Beanpots.


An certainly, the two blueliners are no strangers to the opposite sides of a fierce rivalry.


Petrecki will arrive at the Heights after two years with the USHL's Omaha Lancers, and Cohen played the 2006-07 season with the rival Lincoln Stars. While the Lincoln-Omaha rivalry lacks the name recognition and pedigree of the Beantown rivalry the star defensemen are about to join, its intensity on the ice makes for a more-than-appropriate training ground for a future Eagle and Terrier.


"Going down to Lincoln, we definitely get hyped up in Omaha," Petrecki said. "I know when Lincoln comes to town here we get a lot more fans. It gets pretty heated. Last year, we had a couple of line brawls with them.  A lot of emotions get stirred up. The fans get into it. It's definitely a great rivalry, and I'm just fortunate enough to be a part of it for the last two years."


"It's the most heated thing," said Cohen. "The game we played in Lincoln at the end of the year, it was an 8-7 game and we won in overtime. It was the most unbelievable atmosphere: heavy hitting, there were a couple of cheap shots. It's a very intense rivalry."


Not surprisingly, Cohen and Petrecki have gotten caught up in the rivalry once or twice along the way.


"We got into a fight this year on the ice," Cohen said. "It's on YouTube."


"I think I hit one of his teammates into the wall," said Petrecki. "Then [Cohen] came in, pushing and shoving, that kind of stuff, and then it just developed after that. I don't think it was premeditated or anything like that."


The YouTube clip shows Cohen landing a flurry of punches before the two rearguards go down the ice, a fairly decisive win for the future Terrier.  According to Petrecki, though, he was merely caught on the wrong night.


"It's not really that big of a deal," Petrecki said. "You win some, you lose some. He knew he caught me on an off night, and that's why he never went near me the rest of the season. He never came within three feet of me the rest of the season, because he knew he caught me on an off night."


Of course, Cohen may have had other reasons for not wanting to test his once and future rival.


"He's a pretty gritty guy," Cohen said. "All I know is that my forwards from my team were always telling me that they never wanted to go near him and never wanted anything to do with him."


That grit seems to be another difference between the two. In addition to being on opposite ends of multiple rivalries, Petrecki and Cohen are two very different players on the blueline.


"I would definitely say we're at the opposite ends of the spectrum," Petrecki said. "He's more of a power play type kid. He's got a real good shot and uses it well. He can run a power play. He's definitely more offensive, gets up in the rush a lot more. I wouldn't say I'm the total opposite of him, but I'm more of a second power play type guy, more defensive, more simple: chip off the glass, make that first outlet pass, and I'd like to think I'm a little more physical. He's going to be a point or two a night guy, I'm more of a plus-one or even, solid defensively, kill penalties, block shots."


Yet for all the differences between them and rivalries they share, Petrecki and Cohen have never let it spill over into personal dislike. That fight between the two happened in the heat of the moment, and hasn't affected anything since.


"There's definitely a friendly rivalry," Petrecki said, "but I wouldn't call it a heated one. I want to see him do well, I want to do well myself, and we're pretty good friends off the ice. I know he's rooting for me and I'm rooting for him, but I think it's kind of funny how he wound up in Lincoln and going to BU, and I'm going to BC and I was here in Omaha."


"We're good friends," Cohen said. "We were actually put in a room together for the combine."


And sure enough, as the two defensemen head to Columbus, there's no jostling between them over who is selected first, although the NHL's Central Scouting Service ranks Petrecki four spots higher than Cohen.  The Eagle-to-be and future Terrier are 21st and 25th, respectively, among North American skaters.  Whether or not that form holds in the draft - and individual teams' draft rankings can vary significantly from the Central Scouting list - there's no pressure on either player to go ahead of the other.


"I think we're both going to wind up going somewhere around each other," Cohen said. "I don't think either of us knows who's really going to first, so it's not really something that either of us is concerned about. Whoever goes first is going to get the first hug from the other one."


From there, it'll be on to Boston and a bigger, more storied rivalry. Cohen and Petricki are hardly the first friends to wind up at opposite ends of Commonwealth Avenue - Nathan Gerbe of BC and Jason Lawrence of BU were linemates with the U.S. National Team Development Program, for example - and like others before, they'll battle intensely.


"He liked BC and I liked BU," Cohen said, "and I don't think the whole rivalry thing has anything to do with it. It's definitely a big rivalry, but I think it'd be the same if he was on Denver and I was on BU. It wouldn't really matter. When we play each other, we play extremely hard, and we play to win."


"Obviously it's going to carry over," Petrecki said of the rivalry with Cohen, "but I'm hoping it's going to be a lot of fun. He's moving on, I'm moving on, but we're still going to see each other, still going to play against each other. I'm hoping we have a lot of fun with it."