By Jeff Krever
It’s been an eventful first year away from the Ontario Hockey League for former Brampton Battalion defenseman Brad Albert.
The 22-year-old from Nepean, Ontario is in his first year of playing university hockey and earning a degree in economics close to his hometown, following a four-year stint with the Troops.
While his time at Carleton University so far has seen an impressive start to his career after major junior hockey, Albert said he won’t soon forget how valuable his years in Brampton turned out to be. During his four years with the Battalion, Albert played in 225 regular season games, amassing 45 points and 158 penalty minutes.
“It was probably the best four years of my life so far, it was a great experience. I met a lot of great people and I felt like I grew a lot as a person and as a hockey player,” said Albert.
What was more impressive was his playoff success. Albert played in 41 playoff games with the Battalion, including a trip to the OHL finals versus the Windsor Spitfires in 2009. He said he expects his playoff success with Brampton to come in handy throughout his career at Carleton.
With the departure of four-year captain Brad Albert, expectations will be high this season for the sophomore defenceman.
“We might not have had the best team and we weren’t looked at as the top team in the league but we came together and I really learned a lot from that,” said Albert. “One of the biggest things was coming together as a team and believing in ourselves and that can help you in the playoffs, so if I can do anything to help this team out like that then that’s what I’ll do.”
This season with the Carleton Ravens, Albert played a key role in helping his team finish third place in the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) East division, earning heavy minutes as one of head coach Marty Johnston’s most reliable defensemen throughout the regular season and well into the playoffs.
And while his team faced a disappointing second-round exit at the hands of Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières (UQTR) this year, Albert’s first year playing Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) hockey should be considered a success.
In 28 regular season games with the Ravens, Albert ranked 18th in the conference with 18 points, including one goal and 17 assists. He was also one of the most disciplined defencemen in the country, finishing with only eight penalty minutes.
Albert also earned nation-wide recognition when he was invited to try-out for Team Canada, which was set to compete at the Winter Universiade – an international multi-sport competition for University students – in Erzurum, Turkey. He said despite not making the team, he took a lot from the opportunity.
“It was a great experience. It was my first time being invited to a national camp like that and it meant a lot,” said Albert. “It was pretty neat being invited there and I was really proud just to make it there even though I didn’t make the team.”
This season may have ended a little earlier than Coach Johnston and his Ravens could’ve hoped for, but the first-year head coach is expecting Albert to take even bigger steps next season, especially with the team’s longest-serving defenseman and team captain, Brad Good, graduating.
“He’s got great poise with the puck and he jumps in and plays against the other team’s top line,” said Johnston. “There’s really been no adjustment to the league for Brad, and hopefully he gets better and better if he keeps pushing himself, but certainly he’s made an impact in the OUA already.”
Albert will also be the first to admit that there’s a steep learning curve for players making the transition from major junior to CIS hockey, but he gives full credit to Battalion head coach Stan Butler for helping players get prepared for life after hockey.
“Stan’s been around the game so long, he knows everything about it. I learned a lot from him and it wasn’t just hockey stuff too, it was stuff about life and I think that’s the biggest thing I’ll probably take away from him is lessons about life as well as hockey,” said Albert.
Butler, who coached in his 1000th OHL game this season, said he’s always stressed the importance of getting an education to his hockey players, and that he’s happy to see former players of his succeeding elsewhere.
“I think you have to have options after hockey’s over and Brad Albert is a prime example, along with Thomas Stajan at Brock and Ken Peroff at Guelph,” said Butler. “I think it’s important with those guys to continue with their schooling and Brad was always a really good student and I’m not surprised with how he’s doing.”
In terms of the on-ice adjustment, Albert says his new head coach has made things easy, and that Johnston and Butler closely resemble one another in coaching styles.
“They’re actually pretty similar. Stan is a really intense coach as well and Marty’s in his first year and I think he’s doing a great job so far. He already knew the program and everything so he’s just encouraging us and he’s really intense and I think that’s helping us be the team we are this year.”
But for Albert, the hardest part of making the transition to the CIS had more to do with getting adjusted off the ice than on the ice. He said his teammates and coaches have also played a major role in helping him making that transition.
“Everyone knows they have to do well in school if they want to play hockey, so everyone kind of chips in here and there and if you ever need help the guys are always there to help you with your work,” said Albert. “I think Stan helped me out a lot too because he made school really important in Brampton, he made sure everyone went to classes and really encouraged us all to go to school so I think he really helped out my transition to university hockey.”
Ravens third-year forward Brandon MacLean said he was in the same boat three years ago when he came to Carleton to play hockey following a four-year career with the OHL’s Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.
“I think for a lot of the new guys coming from junior hockey, the biggest thing is you have to juggle school with your hockey and you have bills to pay and all the other things,” said MacLean. “So I think it’s just transitioning into becoming a man and moving on with your life is the biggest thing, but as leaders we just try to point them in the right direction and give them a hand any time they need it.”
One thing Albert enjoys about playing at Carleton is that he gets to be close to home.
“It’s great to be back in Ottawa. I love this city and it’s nice to be back home with my friends and family and school’s going good so far too, it’s a different experience I mean I’d almost look at school first because if you get behind in that then you won’t be able to play hockey, so it takes a lot of discipline to stay up with your school work.”
Still, Albert said he’ll never forget his time in Brampton as both a player, and a person.
“I had a great time there, they have great fans and I’ll never forget my four years there,” said Albert. “I grew a lot as a hockey player and a person, and I’d like to thank the organization and all of the coaches and the players that I played with for helping me out.”