Brett Peterson first fell in love with hockey because of its entrances. He would sit in the stands before a college hockey game, watching the lights in the arena dim and listening to the music grow louder, as spotlights followed every player onto the ice when their name was announced for pregame introductions.
“That sparked my imagination, where I would be playing pond hockey or street hockey and replicating how I’d come out for the starting lineup,” he said. “You see something, and then you’re like, ‘That excites me. I can do that.’”
Now it’s Peterson who is inspiring others with a dramatic entrance into hockey. The Florida Panthers hired him as an assistant general manager in November, as he left the player agency world for his first front-office job. He’s the first Black assistant GM in National Hockey League history, according to the team.
Peterson can’t help but wonder whose wonderment he’s helping to spark.
“By having representation, it opens up a whole new world of people that can start to make their imagination run. Hopefully this opens up another door to have amazing people share their gifts with us,” he said.
Kim Davis, the NHL’s senior executive vice president of social impact and growth initiatives, called Peterson “an opportunity icon for the BIPOC community,” adding that his responsibility to steward diversity practices within the team “will almost certainly outweigh the other professionals” that are in the same position in the league.
“But make no mistake — Brett was chosen for his talent, passion, skill and ability to deliver on-ice results,” she said.
Bill Zito, in his first season as Panthers general manager, has known Peterson for a decade, first as a player he represented as an agent, and then when Peterson became an agent with Acme World Sports. Despite it being a landmark hiring for an NHL team — a league infamous for its minimal diversity at the hockey operations level — Zito said that wasn’t on his mind when he pushed Florida ownership to hire Peterson.
He was just confident that the man he knew as “Chubbs” was the right person for the job.
“I never thought about it, honestly. This is just someone who was like a brother to me,” Zito said. “If it means that we’re expanding opportunities for people in hockey, then I’m humbled. But this was a hockey hire. Hockey is such a great game. We need to make it accessible. I’m hopeful that maybe someone else can get a chance.”