The London Knights are running a practice drill that results in a puck carrier heading in alone on goal.
Knights’ goaltender, 19-year old Brett Brochu, catches a puck in his glove to stop a shooter coming in on his right. He tosses that puck into the corner and sets himself for the next shooter.
This time a player comes from Brochu’s left. The shot flies toward Brochu hard and high and he shrugs, taking it near his left collarbone. The puck is deflected up and lands on the ice in front of Brochu, but the player is on it instantly, picking up the rebound and deking to Brochu’s right. Brochu sprawls spread-eagle on the ice and gets his right leg out to block the second shot.
But the puck is still free and the player gets to it again.
Some goalies would let a player have that one. After all the drill isn’t over. There will be another shooter in a few seconds.
But Brochu isn’t about ‘gimmies’. He lunges right and gets his glove and blocker hand up high enough to get a piece of the puck and send it fluttering harmlessly behind the net.
You don’t get to score easily on Brett Brochu. You have to earn it.
“I grew up with five cousins. Five boys,” Brochu laughs. “We were really close and played every sport. It didn’t matter what it was, I wanted to be competitive.”
But the way Brochu practices has more to it than just being competitive.
“It bothers you when it goes in, because in the back of your head you’re thinking I don’t want that to happen in a game. Even in practice you try not to let them score. That helps the guys too because if you are hard to score on in practice, it makes them bear down, and then they’re ready to do that in games.”
Some players lead by example. Teammates see how hard those players work and it brings up their effort level.
He got a glimpse of the next level of hockey during the 2020-21 Ontario Hockey League season that didn’t happen. As players went looking for places to play, Brochu was invited in by the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins of the American Hockey League, and ended up spending the year with them.
“What I expected was to go over there and practice, get some time with their goalie coach, and improve my skills,” says Brochu. “It was an opportunity to take a bad situation and turn it into a good one.”
Brochu turned it into more than that. He was on the ice before practice and after practice. And he impressed the Penguins in a big way.
“He came in with a great attitude and worked so hard,” described former London Knight Tom Kostopoulos who is the Pittsburgh Penguins’ player development coach. “You honestly had to kick him off the ice after practice. He just wanted to keep working on things.”
Normally 18-year olds don’t play in the AHL. It’s not exactly the kind of place where you plunk an 18-year old goaltender into a game. That would be like throwing him to the Wolves.
Brochu knew that. He was content to practice and just try to get better.
But the hard work paid off. Brochu received a call on the morning of Wilkes-Barre’s final game of the year and was told he would be starting in net.
“It was a one o’clock game so I didn’t have much time to prepare and that probably helped because I might not have slept much the night before,” remembers Brochu. “I was just able to go out and have some fun with it.”
Adding to the fun, he went head-to-head with former teammate Connor McMichael and the Hershey Bears.
Brochu shot McMichael a quick text but looking back wonders if he did the that right thing.
“I let him know before the game I was going to be playing, and I probably shouldn’t have,” smiles Brochu, thinking back to McMichael’s goal and three assists in a 5-2 Hershey victory. “Maybe I should’ve surprised him on the ice. He got the best of me that game and hopefully next time we match up, hopefully soon, I can take him down.”
Brochu made 31 saves in the game and became the youngest player ever to play for Wilkes-Barre Scranton at 18 years and 249 days old.
Now Brochu is hoping to see the end of an Ontario Hockey League season as he technically enters his second year in the league.
He was turning heads and setting records as a rookie in 2019-20 when the COViD-19 pandemic stopped the schedule in March of 2020.
With six games remaining on the schedule, the Tilbury, Ont., native recorded more victories than any other 16- or 17-year old rookie goaltender in Ontario Hockey League history with 32. He won 22 of his last 23 starts and was named OHL Goaltender of the Month for each of the final two months of the season. He had become the backbone of a team that was expected to make a lot of noise in the playoffs, which were called off.
In 2021-22, Brochu picked up where he had left off. He won his first nine starts. He was named OHL Goaltender of the Month for the first month of the season.
He also garnered two assists in his first nine games.
“I did work on a lot of puck-handling last season,” says Brochu. “I think it comes down to having the confidence to do that, and watching video on forechecking to see what players’ tendencies are when they come into the zone. The more I can do back there, the easier it is on everyone. Come the third period in three-on-threes, if our defensemen aren’t being hit 30 times behind the goal line that can be a big help.”
He’s a player always looking to raise his own level of play and in doing so raise the level of his team.
His attitude is as infectious as his on-ice play is inspiring.
Brochu OHL career could extend to international ice. He’s been on Team Canada’s radar for the World Junior Hockey Championship.
As far as Brochu is concerned, the more games and the more opportunities, the better life is.
“I like trying to be better than myself. If there is someone ahead of me on a depth chart, I want to take that spot. Growing up I had other people ahead of me and it was a challenge to try to earn that spot.”
That strategy has brought Brochu to the top echelon of major junior goaltenders.
And it has the potential to take him even further in the future.