Peterborough Petes’ Hunter Garlent galvanized after father’s passing: ‘Every shift that I play, it’s for him’

KINGSTON, Ont. — Playing in the second round of the playoffs for the first time is helping Hunter Garlent and his mum, Nikki, keep from being overtaken by the sudden void in their lives.

There is no one way to work through the grief at the loss of a loved one, as the Peterborough Petes centre did five weeks ago Wednesday when his 48-year-old father, Rob Garlent, passed away. In the aftermath of that, Garlent rejoined the Petes to provide them with some classic crafty centre-ice work during their four-game comeback to oust the Kingston Frontenacs. The 19-year-old pivot whom Peterborough paid big to acquire from the loaded Guelph Storm in January came through with seven points in as many games in a tight series, including the Game 6 late third-period winner and Peterborough's lone regulation goal in the 2-1 Game 7 overtime win. Having his season stretch farther in April means an escape.

"Coming back to the rink has made it easier," said the 5-foot-9, 173-pound Garlent, who was passed over in the 2013 NHL draft after his second OHL season with Guelph. "It's been helpful. When you’re at the rink, you’re doing what you love. My mom, she's been there for me since I started skating when I was two, three years old. Right now she’s smiling and remembers all the good memories when my dad was there, sitting over in the corner."

Garlent's 30 points across 25 regular-season games might not do justice to his impact on the Petes. The Thorold, Ont., native also had just more than a point per game in the first half with Guelph. Garlent has given the Petes, who went 16-10-0-2 after his arrival, a versatile pivot who can set up scoring ace Nick Ritchie and reduce the burden on sophomore Eric Cornel.

"He’s been great ever since he came," Ritchie said. "It's been instant chemistry and I hope we can keep it together against Oshawa (in the second round, which begins Friday on the Generals' home ice)."

The Petes were laid low on Feb. 26 after learning of the death of Rob Garlent. It came right before an eagerly anticipated weekend that included a rivalry game with Oshawa and their only visit of the season to the OHL's mecca, London's Budweiser Gardens. Even without their No. 1 centre, Peterborough swept all three games.

Hunter Garlent's return on March 6 was foreshadowing for the playoffs. That night, goalie Andrew D'Agostini made 45 saves and Ritchie scored the OT winner in Peterborough's first win over Kingston in six tries this season.

Garlent was gradually able to compartmentalize his grief, and feed off it. That came to the fore in the Petes' series-tying 5-4 win last Sunday, when he scored the winner with 3:43 to play.

"Every shift that I play, it’s for him," he said of his late father. "Scoring that goal the other night was unbelievable. He was a proud and awesome dad, and it’s awesome when you can play for someone else."

Garlent could be worth a second look as a re-entry candidate. Along with the concern about his size, an ankle injury helped limit him to 50 games last season in Guelph. He did use his smarts to good effect as a trustworthy penalty killer for Canada when it won the 2013 IIHF world under-18 championship last April in Russia.

For now, winning after great personal loss is helping Garlent feel whole.

"When you're never satisfied, and you're having fun, it all comes together," he said.

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.

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