Coming into December, the defending national champion Boston College Eagles were rolling, their record at 9-4-1. During that time, the Eagles scored at least three goals in all but three of those games. However, beginning with a series against arch-rival Boston University on December 5, the Eagles went into a tailspin, going without a win until a recent series against Maine, going 0-4-2 in that stretch.
During that rough patch, the Eagles looked to their captain, senior Brock Bradford, for leadership. If anyone knows about dealing with adversity, it’s Bradford.
“It’s easy to be the captain of a ship when everything’s smooth, but when it gets turbulent and you lose tough games, maybe there’s no puck luck, that’s when you really show your mettle and I thought Brock was excellent during that stretch,” said Eagles’ coach Jerry York.
After a very successful sophomore campaign that saw Bradford score 45 points and get named to the NCAA Tournament Northeast Regional All-Tournament Team and earn Most Valuable Player honors at the Hockey East Tournament, hopes were high at the start of his junior year in 2007. In the team’s first game against Michigan however, Bradford broke the humerus in his left arm.
Initially, it was thought he might be out for the year, but he worked hard on the rehabilitation and returned to the lineup in January, scoring the game-winner in his first game back against Vermont. Just four games later however, against Boston University, Bradford broke his arm again, just below where the first break had occurred, and was lost for the year.
“The first time it was tough to go through,” said Bradford. “I realize injuries are a part of the game and they happen unexpectedly, so I never sat and thought ‘Why me?’ or anything. I had to accept it. I was aware I’d be playing and have a chance to play later in the year, so that first injury, after surgery I was focused on healing and getting back into the best shape possible to try to help the team and make up for some lost games, but then four games back, you break it again. That night that I broke it, I was pretty devastated.
“I’m pretty lucky to be playing and I knew that if I wanted to be playing this year, I would have to work even harder if I wanted to contribute and make a difference on the ice. That was kind of my motivation going forward. In your life, there’s always going to be setbacks and it’s how you deal with them that really defines who you are.”
In fact, how Bradford dealt with the injury is part of why he is the captain this year. Bradford watched the remaining games from the stands, and in between periods would offer advice based on what he saw.
“He could have sat there and sulked and not gotten any better but Brock really took it upon himself to watch the game from the press box area and try to understand the game from a different level like that and I think he became a much better player just from watching the game and understanding it in that sense,” said Eagles’ senior Andrew Orpik. “He’d come down in between periods and give us his two cents about what he was seeing from our team and from the other team. It would have been easy for him to sit up in the stands and maybe seclude himself, but he really went out of his way to help and as a team we went out of our way to make sure he felt like part of the time.”
“He was really very few days down before saying he was going to get back in this thing and help the team as best as he could,” adds York. “We had him on the bench for a few games, but he didn’t like that, so he went back up in the stands and we kept him involved as best we could.”
Bradford first started skating in British Columbia when he was three with another future Hockey East player.
“Tyler McNeely from Northeastern, his grandpa took us out skating one day and was looking after us, and ever since then I just took a liking to being on the ice,” said Bradford. “I started in the hockey program when I was three or four and never looked back.”
As a junior, Bradford skated with the Coquitlam Express of the British Columbia Hockey League and then with the Omaha Lancers of the USHL. He also skated for Team Canada in the under-18 Junior World Cup with another Eagles’ player, Dan Bertram, in Slovakia in 2004, which is where he first go on the radar of York.
“Danny was advanced in school, which is why he was a year ahead of Brock when he came to B.C., but they played the same age bracket, and that’s where I first saw him,” said York. “Then we followed him out when he played in Burnaby in the British Columbia League, and then the next year he switched and came down to Omaha. We saw him an awful lot during the USHL. Heâ€™s always been a gifted player and he caught our eye pretty easy when we watched the games.”
Bradford always knew he wanted to play college hockey in the U.S., and looked at several schools before deciding on BC.
“I was always big on academics,” said Bradford. “My parents did a good job raising me with that in mind. I had a good foundation based on school and then hockey. I was fortunate to have a choice between some pretty good schools, but ultimately Boston College, it was my first visit, once I finished my other ones, I knew right away that BC was the perfect place for me. Thereâ€™s a great balance here between academics and athletics, and a great tradition.”
Bradford transitioned well his first year, playing in every game and scoring 18 points.
“I think Brock was always a good player, even coming in his freshman year,” said Orpik. “He’s always been the type of player I can talk to about the game.”
In addition to the leadership Bradford has offered this season in the locker room, he is also leading on the ice. Bradford leads the team in scoring with 28 points through 22 games.
“I guess you’d think he would be a little hesitant coming back and playing a little timid but if was to play a little timid because of last year I don’t think he would be as nearly as effective,” said Orpik. “He hasn’t played scared or timid at all this season. I think that’s a credit to his courage and toughness. You don’t have to necessarily get points to be an effective player but for him he’s an offensive-minded forward and we really sort of lean on him to carry the load.”
“He’s as skillful a player as we’ve had here,” said York about Bradford’s on-ice play. “He has a real chance to influence all the games we play in, especially when he has the puck. He’s a student of the game.”
After the national championship season last year, Bradford’s fellow classmate and friend Nathan Gerbe decided to forego his senior year and go pro. For Bradford, he felt he could learn more from another year under York’s tutelage.
“I always thought it would be good for me to graduate,” explained Bradford. “I was only a year away from getting a degree, so I think it was a no-brainer for me to come back and finish my schooling and have another year to develop under coach York and come back to Boston College, not only as a player, but as a person. It’s tough when your really good friend leaves, but it was in the best interests of his development and his pursuit of a pro career. Everyone has different ways of getting there, and for me the best was to come back for a fourth year. Coach York has been a great mentor for me since I’ve come to Boston College.”
As February starts, the Eagles have a tall order ahead of them if they want to defend their national title. With Hockey East as competitive as it is, it will be difficult. For the large freshman class, the upcoming Beanpot tournament will provide a good indication of where the Eagles are at, and is something Bradford looks forward to.
“I was talking to coach, and the Beanpot is a good indicator of how you’re going to react and play in big games the rest of the season,” said Bradford. “This year it’s going to be great because we have Northeastern as the number three team in the country and BU as the number two team in the country. It’s going to be good for our team, especially for the young guys, but we really need to pick up our game if we want to be playing in big games later in the year.”