Start something early enough and it’s hard to know life without it.
It’s the reason you hear the phrase, “Just like riding a bike.”
Standing in a blue crease in front of a six-foot by four-foot cage feels that natural to Brett Brochu and earning his place there comes just that organically as well. He’s been doing it almost all his life.
By now, you might know the story of how Brochu arrived at training camp with the London Knights as a 17-year-old rookie out of Junior C and how he found himself in a competition for the backup job.
As the Knights went into their first pre-season game against the Sarnia Sting, the Tilbury, Ont., native sat down in the spot reserved for London’s backup goalie and enjoyed the view of a 5-3 victory by the Knights. It would not have surprised anyone to have seen Brochu stationed there for much of this season. Young rookie goalies rarely get even close to a majority of their team’s starts. Plus, Brochu was coming out of junior C which, depending on how you count your rungs in the junior hockey world, is as many as three leagues below the Ontario Hockey League.
Making that kind of a jump is rare. Like bounding over a deep crevasse as if it wasn’t there. Even to become a team’s number two.
Steve Mason came out of junior C with the Grimsby Peach Kings in 2005-06 and played in 12 games for London but he also spent time in junior B that season with the Petrolia Jets.
That made the cavern that Mason hopped over a little more shallow.
But Brochu has yet to bat an eye. Not only has he made the leap to the OHL and to the No. 1 job in the Knight net, but he has also put together a season that ranks him alongside the best goalies in the league. Guys who he could not have faced at any point growing up because they were too old to be on the same ice.
Nineteen-year-olds like Nico Daws of the Guelph Storm and Jacob Ingham of the Kitchener Rangers and Cedrick Andree of the Ottawa 67s are supposed to be the top goalies in the league this year.
But have a look, Brett Brochu is right there.
“His competitiveness is outstanding,” says Knights assistant coach Rick Steadman. “He gives us a great chance to win every game because he just wants to go out there and beat the other goalie and make every save and he’s one of those goalies who just has a knack for making the big save when you need it.”
Brochu showed off his compete level long before he took his seat in that backup spot on the London bench for that first pre-season game. He demonstrated the desire to win even before he won over his coaches with the junior C Kings and backstopped them as a 16-year-old.
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Brochu actually had to win the goaltending job within his own family.
“I wanted to play goalie because of my brother,” he says. “I was a defenceman but I switched to goalie after seeing him play and right from there I knew that was what I wanted to do.”
Brochu’s brother is three years older but relinquished the crease to Brett.
Now Brochu finds himself in a category all by himself.
No 17-year-old goalie in his first season in the OHL has ever won more games than Brochu.
Andrew Loverock won 31 with the Mississauga IceDogs in 2006-07. Before that, you have to go back to 1980-81 and John Vanbiesbrouck of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.
Brochu passed them with a 3-1 victory over the Oshawa Generals on March 8 at Budweiser Gardens.
“He wants to be in the net, he doesn’t gloat and he wants to get the next win,” said London goaltending coach Daren Machesney. “I think that’s what sets him apart sometimes. He’s never satisfied.”
The only 17-year-old goalies with more wins than Brochu in a single Ontario Major Junior season are Kay Whitmore (35), Brian Finley (36) and Pat Riggin of the Knights, who had 37 in 1970-71. None of the three were in their first year when they reached those totals.
Machesney is eager to see how Brochu’s game continues to grow as the games get bigger this season.
“He’s always been a smart goalie but knowing when to pressure and when not to has been something that he has learned this year. His patience on his feet has helped him.”
The Knights are also eager to see how far Brochu can take them in his very first year at this level. London is vying for top spot in the Western Conference and has gone 26-3 since December 28. Brochu has been in goal for 22 of those wins and only one loss. Machesney says Brochu has his teammates believing in him which is not easy for such a young player to do.
If you look at some of London’s top teams, strong goaltending tends to be a theme. The list includes names like Adam Dennis, Gerald Coleman, Michael Houser and Tyler Parsons.
And Brochu would have no problem adding his name to a list like that.