But he played anyway, handling his rejection with the poise of one far older, skating with ‘B’ teams fortunate enough to take a chance on him, honing his skills, and learning that, sure enough, size isn’t everything.
“It’s been something that I’ve just gotten used to,” Pelle said. “I don’t think it’s something I let get to me. Obviously I’ve had to overcome a little adversity, maybe a little more than other guys, but I don’t look at it as a negative.”
Neither did the New York Apple Core of the Eastern Junior Hockey League, which recruited Pelle from Long Island’s Suffolk County Police Athletic League as a high school sophomore three years ago.
“I was even shorter then than I am now, if you can believe that,” Pelle said.
That wouldn’t dissuade Apple Core coach and general manager Henry Lazar—as it had several before him—from enlisting Pelle, though. His organization had, after all, already enjoyed its fair share of success with Cornell’s Ryan Vesce, the 5’8 future captain of the Big Red.
And not too surprisingly, Pelle drew almost immediate comparisons to his forbear.
As Vesce had been “Rocky” before him, Pelle was quickly dubbed “Little Rocky” and, in his first full season, scored 88 points on 32 goals and 56 assists in 80 games, good for third-best on the Apple Core despite his small stature.
“He’s got a lot of God-given talent—he’s sharp and smart,” Lazar said. “It’s pretty hard to teach somebody how to think. He anticipates. He learns from his mistakes.”
What few mistakes befell him as a rookie, Pelle corrected one year later. Though unable to spur his team to a successful defense of its EJHL title, the Harvard-bound senior notched 114 points on the strength of 56 goals and 58 assists—in just 69 games—tied for tops in the league. As has been the case throughout his freshman campaign with the Crimson, much, though not all, of that offensive production came within a hair’s breadth of the crease, where few little guys dare go.
Not Pelle, though.
“When you have heart and desire, those things don’t matter,” Lazar said. “You have guys who are 5’7 who play like they’re 6’2, and you’ve got guys who are 6’3 who play like they’re 5’7. All that matters is what’s inside.”
“It’s tougher for me to get to the front of the net or battle in the corner,” Pelle added. “But I try just as hard as I can and hopefully that works.”
Though it certainly has thus far—the West Islip, N.Y., native is Harvard’s second-leading scorer with 25 points—as a recruit, Pelle worried openly that he might need to defer his admission in order to add strength and speed, else he might struggle in the transition to the collegiate level.
But former Harvard coach Mark Mazzoleni assured the then-uncommitted prospect that he would be more than ready to contribute impact right away. Pelle informed his other ECAC suitors, Cornell included, that he would be Cambridge-bound shortly thereafter.
But making the jump was, at least initially, a bit more difficult than Mazzoleni had suggested.