The Toronto Maple Leafs went to the 2001 Entry Draft in Florida looking for a few good defensemen, and they came away with four of them. Carlo Colaiacovo, Karel Pilar and Jay Harrison have already signed on with the club and are paying dividends at the professional level. The fourth, Ottawa 67s’ Brendan Bell is busy polishing his game at the junior level, captaining an elite team to a hopeful Memorial Cup berth.
Bell is a smooth-skating defenseman who is scoring at a point per game pace (14 points in 13 games, 2nd among defensemen). He’s got pro size (6-1,207lbs) and the ability to quarterback a power play. Critics have been quick to point out defensive deficiencies in the past, but Bell has been working hard at this part of his game, and has a stellar plus/minus of +13 to show for it. His ability to make passes out of his own end helps drive the OHL’s top offense.
HockeysFuture recently had a chance to talk to Brendan about his past summer training with the National Junior Team and the Maple Leafs, and his current OHL season in Ottawa.
Name: Brendan Bell
Weight: 207 lbs
Hometown: Nepean, Ontario
Acquired: 3rd Round, 65th Overall in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft
Hockeysfuture: First of all, could you describe what kind of player you are?
Brendan Bell: I’m a defenceman who likes to be considered a two-way threat. I can provide offence from the point with my skating and passing, but try to play strong defense in my own end.
HF: You’ve had the opportunity to play in your hometown for one of the true junior hockey icons in Canada, Brian Kilrea. How has his influence and experience helped you in your career?
BB: It has helped a lot. Killer has so much knowledge to share about the game that you can’t help but benefit from it. He wants everyone playing at a high-level every night and knows how to get the most of his players.
HF: As well, having played your whole OHL career for a very successful organization like the Ottawa 67’s; you have already played in a Memorial Cup (2001 in Saskatchewan) and played with some very talented defensemen like Luke Sellars and Jon Zion. How have these experiences shaped you as a player?
BB: Playing with guys like Luke and Jon helped me out earlier in my OHL career. I was lucky enough to be able to step in and play as a number 4 defenseman in my rookie year, and those two guys really showed me some of the finer points and were always there when I had questions. The Memorial Cup was a tremendous experience – getting there was the best part. Our team was an underdog the whole way through playoffs but it seemed like we gelled at the perfect time. It was a great opportunity to be able to play on that kind of stage. I hope I’m lucky enough to someday have another experience like that.
HF: You had a really busy off-season that was highlighted with a week in Halifax training with the Under-20 National Junior Team. What were your goals going into the camp?
BB: My main goal going into the camp was just to leave an impression in the coaches mind’s. I trained hard all summer so that I would perform well in Halifax and then at main camp in Hamilton with the Leafs. I just wanted to play hard and play my game to the best of my ability. I also thought it was important to show the staff there that I could be a leader and be a good team guy.
HF: You were one of the top defensemen at the camp, leading all defensemen in scoring during the intra-squad tournament. Has Head Coach Marc Habscheid kept in touch with you since then or given you any indication as to whether you’ll be at the final camp in December? How big of a goal is it for you personally to make this year’s squad?
BB: I haven’t talked to Coach Habscheid since the development camp. I think that the selections for the camp in December are based largely on how well guys play through the first part of the season. It is very important to me to make the world junior team. It’s a goal that I’ve had had for a very long time and this is my last shot at it, so I’m going to everything I can to be on the list when the camp is announced and then part of the roster that goes to Halifax.
HF: You finally got to experience your first pro training camp in Hamilton with the Maple Leafs. Did you prepare any different for this camp then for the junior camp?
BB: I just tried to work harder in the gym this summer. I knew that going to main camp I’d be playing against men as opposed to in junior playing against guys my age. I made it important to be as strong as possible without giving up anything as far as skills are concerned. I think that I’ve got the skills to be able to play with guys at the next level, it’s just the size and speed that younger players like myself need to get accustomed to.
HF: As a young defenseman, it must have been intimidating to see the likes of Mats Sundin and Alex Mogilny bearing down on you during game action. After spending time in Hamilton, what do you think are the most important adjustments a defenseman must make to play in the NHL coming from junior?
BB: The main thing is positioning. As a defenseman in an NHL camp, you realize how important it is to be well-positioned. Players are so smart and talented at that level, that any mistake you make can end up in your net.
HF: Can you assess your own performance at the training camp? Did the Leafs give you any indications of what they want you to work on going into your final junior season?
BB: I was pretty happy with the way I played at training camp. I think that I may have been a little more tentative than I’d like to be because I wanted to make sure I didn’t get beat by guys like Mogilny and Sundin. Based on the conversations I had after camp, the Leafs want me to try and be as good as possible every night in junior. The people that I talked to told me they were very happy with the way things went at camp, they told me they’d like really like to see me in Halifax over Christmas and that they’d be watching me closely all year.
HF: Your 67’s have gotten off to a great start this year, and are ranked #5 in the CHL Top 10. Quite a few of your younger teammates (Corey Locke, Karol Sloboda and Lukas Mensator) are off to fantastic starts. What will it take for you guys to maintain this level of play, and perhaps get back to the Memorial Cup?
BB: I think the main thing is discipline. We have played well out of the gate and sticking with our game plan is important. We just need to keep playing our brand of hockey and most teams won’t be able to keep up with us.
HF: You were recently named captain of the 67’s. Does wearing the ‘C’ change your approach to the game?
BB: The only thing that really changed was the letter on the front of my jersey. The last couple of years with the 67’s, I’ve considered myself to be leader on and off the ice. I’m still going to approach every game the same way I’ve tried to start this year. Just now, the younger guys may be watching me a little more closely, so it is important to set a good example for them to follow.
HF: Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions! Good luck the rest of the way!