Wed Dec 07 12:54pm EST
Ask Brady Vail about what he's done to get on the NHL draft radar and you'll hear about the people who made it possible for someone from Palm City, Fla., to make a go of it in hockey.
Like a lot of players at age 16, the physical rigours of major junior were a little beyond Vail by times last season. Since the off-season before a player's draft year is a critical period in his development — perhaps only as far as draft status and how that plays into signing a NHL contract go — he got serious about bulking up. In doing so, he thought of how his parents and closest sibling uprooted their lives for the sake of his hockey.
"My family sacrificed a lot and really, I owe everything to them for what happens this year and this coming summer," Vail, 17, says. "When I was 12, my mom [Susan] and sister [Katie] moved to Michigan with me and I played for [Detroit] Compuware [elite youth hockey] for three years. My dad [Bob] would come up every weekend. He sacrificed a lot staying in Florida. They've been so good for me."
The 6-foot-1, 190-pound left wing typically chips in a bit of scoring and is also trusted to contain opponents' top lines. Last Friday vs. the Ottawa 67's, for instance, Vail managed to record two points while his line held the high-scoring Sean Monahan-Shane Prince-Tyler Toffoli trio to one goal. All told, Vail has 10 goals and 26 points in 32 games for a young team that's ramping up toward 2013-14, when Windsor hosts to hope the MasterCard Memorial Cup.
"He's been good with his skating and keeping his feet in motion, just playing a good two-way game," Spitfires GM and vice-president Warren Rychel says. "He's a definite draft pick. He's getting better all the time. His level of, his commitment to fitness is awesome. This summer he stayed in Windsor and worked out with our trainer, Joe Garland, and [New Jersey Devils centre Adam] Henrique and [Spitfires centre] Kerby [Rychel]. You can see every night that he's really come a long way and is going to be a good player when he's 19 years old."
"I started out in roller hockey and then my dad got me interested in ice hockey. My uncle bought me my first stick. I switched over to ice when I was about nine and then got picked up by a travel team before I realized I'd have to come north to further my chances in hockey ... when I was 11 we'd drive a hour and a half north 3-4 times a week for games and practices and I'd have 45-minute sessions before school to improve my skating."
2. What is the biggest asset you bring to a team?
"I try to be an energy guy, get the guys going, do the systems right, be a leader to our young guys. Also produce some points to help our team win."
3. Aside from the obvious — build strength, improve speed — what do you think is the biggest area of your game you need improve before you can turn pro?
"Really, I think I need to work on my first three steps. I think my speed at top speed is pretty good. That's something I worked on a lot this summer. But my first three steps and always keeping my feet moving even when I don't have the puck, is something I can definitely work on."
4. Whom in the NHL do you watch and say, "I see things he does that I can build into my game" or "I need to play more like him?"
"Really, everyone. Just the whole speed of the NHL blows my mind. I watch Sidney Crosby a lot because he's my favourite player. The way he plays is just phenomenal. I try to tie in some of his stuff. Like the way he opens up, his hip work. And the way he plays down low. Also, how he brings a great defensive game."
5. What is your favourite workout song?
"I like house, club music to work out to and that's also what I listen to before games. Probably my favourite one is probably Levels by Avicii. That always gets me going."
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet (photo: OHL Images).