They were teammates at St. Lawrence University, standout hockey players who, in that unforgettable 1987-1988 season, were one overtime goal away from becoming national champions.
Today, the school’s rookie-of-the-year award bears their names: Mike Pelletier, a Canadian, and Richie Stewart, an American.
But it is a solemn tribute. One that 10 years after the 9/11 attacks still gnaws at the hockey fraternity grappling with the long odds behind their deaths: how is it that two players from the same small school in upstate New York died together as co-workers at Cantor Fitzgerald?
“I think about them, I think about that team, not every day but at certain times,” says former Toronto Maple Leaf Jamie Baker, who was Stewart’s St. Lawrence roommate and a close friend of “Peltch,” who grew up in Chambly, Que.
Baker, now a radio broadcaster for San Jose Sharks games, attended their memorials a week after the planes flew into the World Trade Center towers. They were heartbreaking tributes held on back-to-back days as the mountains of debris at Ground Zero smouldered, bodies trapped beneath.
“We’re always reminded about 9/11 because it was a terrorist attack,” Baker says. “But obviously what draws me back is I think of Mike and Richie.”
Pelletier, 35, left behind his wife, Sophie, and two children — a daughter, Sydney, who was 2 at the time, and an infant son, Nicholas. His wife has since remarried.
Pelletier’s death continues to touch his wider hockey family of teammates — especially players on that 1987-1988 St. Lawrence squad.
“Mike had kids before I did, and going to Mike’s funeral definitely changed me as a person,” says St. Lawrence teammate Hank Lammens, a former NHLer and Canadian Olympic sailor. “. I’m still not over it.
“It’s changed my life in the way I am with my own kids, and you have to reflect on what every day is really all about.’’
Toronto bond broker Gary Robertson roomed with Stewart and Baker at St. Lawrence. Last week, Robertson and former university players — some from Cornell and Colgate Universities — played a “tribute” round of golf in Richmond Hill “to remember Peltch, remember him as a friend.”
Dave Crombeen was a Cornell man — and a St. Lawrence rival — who shared a midtown Toronto apartment with Pelletier for three years when they worked in the financial world. They kept in touch regularly after Pelletier moved to New York.
Crombeen said the “value of family” was one of the lessons imparted by Pelletier’s death. Crombeen’s wife, Jane-Ann, was heavily pregnant with twin girls 10 years ago and was unable to attend Pelletier’s funeral with her husband, who witnessed his friend’s family cloaked in unbearable grief.
“The fact that he’s not there to be with his kids,” says Crombeen, “who along with his wife were the highlight of his life, that really hits home to me.”