Peer behind the goalie mask of Jordan Pearce and you'll find not only a pilot, but also an aspiring doctor.
There's much more to the Toledo Walleye netminder than someone who blocks rubber pucks for a living. Pearce, 26, is in his fourth stint with the ECHL organization, and he is putting up career numbers.
The Alaska native considers himself an outdoorsman. But he also majored in pre-med and anthropology in college at Notre Dame and plans to become a physician after he hangs up his skates.
He got his pilot's license last summer and owns a Cessna 172 Skyhawk aircraft back home.
“Up there it's a lot different,” Pearce said. “We're a big outdoors family. We love to fish and hunt. Sometimes I just like not being connected to the grid. I like to go out in the middle of nowhere, where there's no phone service.”
Pearce's father and grandfather were pilots and passed the tradition down. His grandfather, George Pearce, Sr., settled in Alaska before it was a state.
“There are so few roads that if you really want to explore Alaska, you have to have a plane,” he said.
The path that Pearce has followed can be considered equally rare. Following his mountain-man like upbringing, he guided Notre Dame to the NCAA national title game in 2008. He also was named the CCHA Scholar-Athlete of the Year in 2009.
“I was pre-med at Notre Dame and I really liked it,” Pearce said. “I will probably go back to med school. I'd like to do surgery or get into orthopedics.”
Right now Pearce is strictly focused on his duties as Toledo's goaltender. In 12 games, Pearce has an 8-3-0 record with a 2.40 goals against average and .909 save percentage.
“I've been having good success down here,” Pearce said. “I'm learning to be consistent and trying to be good to great every game. I want to keep my team in games.”
The Walleye have won three in a row overall and set a franchise record with five straight victories at home. Toledo (16-10-1) sits in first place in the North Division.
Pearce, who earned his first shutout of the season on Saturday, has won two in a row and has a 1.00 GAA in those games.
Pearce started his pro career in Toledo in 2009-10. Walleye coach Nick Vitucci said the goalie has evolved into a a four-year veteran.
“He's not a first-year kid anymore,” Vitucci said. “When you get a little older and get more experience, things tend to slow down in front of you. He's going through that right now. He's so confident in his abilities.”
In his senior season at Notre Dame, Pearce was a finalist for the CCHA player of the year after posting a 30-6-3 record with eight shutouts. Pearce had a 1.68 goals-against average.
He led the Fighting Irish to the CCHA championship in 2009.
“At Notre Dame, his senior year he really started playing well … now he's getting into a comfort zone in pro hockey,” Vitucci said.
After playing a team-high 37 games with Toledo his rookie season, Pearce has spent much of his career up in the American Hockey League with Grand Rapids.
“Two years ago in Grand Rapids, he got a role where he was holding a bad hockey team in a lot of games,” Vitucci said.
Pearce seized the No. 1 goaltending duties in Grand Rapids at the end of 2010-11 season. He finished with a 2.85 goals-against average. He started this season in the AHL but a logjam of goalies in the Detroit Red Wings' system led to his assignment to Toledo.
He has now started in more games in goal for the Walleye than any other player.
“It's been a journey with ups and downs,” Pearce said. “The pro game is a lot different than college. It has taken a few years to get that experience. Sometimes less is more. There's a lot of adjusting on and off the ice. You learn what it takes to play your best and you appreciate the process.”
The journey included a promotion to the NHL last March when Pearce was called up to Detroit. He did not appear in a game for the Red Wings.
“You're always surprised how fast things can change,” Pearce said. “You can be down in the East Coast one day and you go to the rink and you're up. You just have to do the best you can to prepare.
“My wife [Melissa] and I have enjoyed it here. You want to be in the A. But if you are in the [ECHL] Toledo is a great place to be. The fans are phenomenal, the organization treats the players very well, and the facility is great.”
Pearce said he wasn't surprised when Toledo's second- and third-leading scorers, Luke Glendening and Andrej Nestrasil, were called up to the AHL on Monday.
“Down here it's good to see guys get called up because it shows the other young guys that the ‘A’ is just a phone call away,” he said. “This will give the chance to some other guys here."
Today, Pearce will board the team bus for a road trip to South Carolina. The Walleye play at Greenville on Friday and Saturday.
“Right now, I can step back and realize I get paid to play a sport I truly love,” Pearce said.
FISH TALES: A former Bowling Green State University forward and AHL veteran was added to the Walleye roster on Tuesday. Rockford assigned Brandon Svendsen to Toledo. He played in 148 games for BG from 2005-09 and scored 32 goals to go along with 44 assists. A native of Minnesota, Svendsen has played in 230 pro games in the AHL and ECHL. He has 45 goals and 80 assists. … The team returns to the Huntington Center for games on Dec. 28 and 29. Prior to the games area youth and high school teams will participate in the fourth annual Holiday HockeyFest. Participating teams will raise money for former Clay player Kyle Cannon, who was paralyzed while playing a game in December of 2008.
Contact Mark Monroe at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6354 or on Twitter @MonroeBlade.