The off-season is a critical time in the development of young hockey players, and no one has taken that period of time more seriously then Brendan Bell in the last two years. It’s probably also fair to say that no one has benefited as much from an off-season program then the Ottawa 67s stand-out defenseman, who was recently named the CHL’s Top Defenseman for the 2002-03 season. Heading into his final season with the Ottawa 67s last summer, Bell knew he had to get in shape if he was going to accomplish the lofty goals he had set for himself this past season.
All of his hard work paid off, as Bell accomplished his long time goal of representing Canada at the 2003 World Junior Championship in Halifax, where he paired with Washington Capitals’ prospect Steve Eminger to form a highly effective defensive pairing for the Silver Medal-winning Canadian side. He earned his first NHL contract with the Maple Leafs in March, and led his Ottawa 67s to the OHL Finals against Kitchener, tallying 27 points in only 23 games to lead all OHL defensemen in play-off scoring. Bell was at his dominating best during the play-offs, displaying the world class skating abilities and strong two-way game that the Maple Leafs had always hoped would develop when they drafted him in the third round of the 2001 NHL Entry Draft. Barry Trapp, the Maple Leafs head scout, took notice of the vast improvement in Bell’s game, noting that “he just took off after Christmas”, and suggesting Bell has a shot at turning a lot of heads at this year’s training camp. Trapp’s words have given Bell added motivation to work hard this summer.
Hockey’s Future recently had the opportunity to talk to Bell about his preparations for the upcoming Maple Leafs training camp, and the recent Leafs prospect camp held in Toronto during July.
Hockey’s Future: What have you been up to this summer?
Brendan Bell: Not really a lot. I’ve mostly just been training. I’ve been around Ottawa all summer, except for a few short trips. Because our season ran pretty long and I’ve been going pretty much since the beginning of August with the World Junior camps and all that last summer. I took a week or two off and I’ve been in the gym ever since pretty much.
HF: What are you trying to work on this summer? Do you focus on particular areas of your game or overall conditioning?
BB: I’m just working on trying to improve everything. If there was one part of your game that was really weak you could focus on that, but it’s tough to really improve your game in the gym. When you actually get out on the ice and start playing with NHL caliber players, that’s when the little things will have to kick in like positioning and strength in the corners and that type of thing and that’s just purely hockey stuff and not so much anything that you can work on in the gym.
HF: In terms of your workout regime, is that something that the Maple Leafs organization helps you put together?
BB: They help somewhat. I’m with a trainer in Ottawa named Lorne Goldenberg, who has worked with Gary Roberts in the past. Everyone who knows the Leafs knows that Roberts is a kind of fitness nut so I’m on a similar program to him. The Leafs strength coach Matt Nichol knows Lorne in Ottawa so they monitor what I’m doing somewhat. But really, it’s up to me to come into camp in good shape.
HF: How many times a week are you in the gym?
BB: I do four weight workouts, three cardio workouts and a plyometrics session every week.
HF: Do you work out with any NHLer’s in Ottawa?
BB: There are a couple of guys who are working out with Lorne, including Jason York (Nashville), Fred Brathwaite (Columbus) and Marc Lamothe (Detroit).
HF: Does that give you a good idea of where you’re at in your progress?
BB: A little bit, yeah. They’ve been doing it for a long time and they know the ins and outs of the league and they know what needs to get done and what level you have to be at for the start of training camp. But I think I’ve got a pretty good grasp of that within myself already.
HF: How much time have you put in on the ice during the summer?
BB: To tell you the truth, I’ve done very little because the past few years have been very, very long with summer conditioning camps, with the World Junior camps and various other things and Ottawa (67s) having had pretty good years deep into the playoffs. This year, the only time that I’ve been skating was at the Leafs prospect camp in the summer. Next week I’ll be getting on skates for good and then I’ll be on the ice every day up to training camp.
HF: Do you try to play any other sports in the summer?
BB: Mostly just golf. I used to play soccer until I was 16, I guess until I started playing junior hockey. I used to play a lot of sports in high school but once I started playing junior hockey that pretty much took up all of my time.
HF: I guess you also have to worry about getting injured as well.
BB: That’s part of it, too. I mostly just goof around playing sports with my friends; I don’t play any sports in organized leagues or anything during the summer.
HF: I understand that yourself, Kyle Wellwood, and Carlo Colaiacovo weren’t required to attend the recent Maple Leafs prospect camp. Why was it important for you guys to be there?
BB: The Leafs asked us if we wanted to attend. Paul Dennis (the Leafs director of player development) sent us a few e-mails and phone calls to see if we’d like to come. I think that the camp is a really good idea. A lot of the things we did were just things that can seem a little silly at first like cooking classes and taking tours of the city, but those are all the things that get you acclimatized to the organization and are really going to help you out in the long run. As well, it’s just a sign to the organization that we do really want to be a part of what they’re doing, and that we know that the off-season is a really important part of the process for us.
HF: One of the reasons for holding the camp is to get the young guys used to the pace of an NHL-style practice. Could you tell the difference between what they were doing, and what you were accustomed to with the 67s?
BB: Definitely. In Ottawa, our practices were quite a bit different then most of the other junior teams, let alone professional teams. With Killer’s (Brian Kilrea) practices, they’re pretty much all flow drills but pretty much similar every single day. So for the last four years I’ve pretty much had the same practice every day, although it’s obviously worked for the team and for Kilrea. It’s a little different in pro because there are a lot of new ideas being thrown at you and the pace is different; more high tempo the whole way through; whereas in Ottawa we weren’t going 100% every time. I guess that’s the way that it’s done in the pros.
HF: Having played with your hometown team in junior, you haven’t really had the experience of living on your own yet. That will be an adjustment to make next year that those little things from the camp will probably help you with?
BB: Yeah, I’ve been spoiled getting to live with my parents the past four years. My mom has cooked most of my meals so I’ll have to get used to that.
HF: Proper nutrition is such a key as well for you guys.
BB: Yeah, I’ve been trying to focus a lot on nutrition and getting the proper amount of sleep this summer. It’s going to be a lot harder when I’m playing pro and living on my own.
HF: One of the fun parts of the prospect camp is that you get to see a lot of young guys that maybe aren’t as well known to the average fan. Could you tell us your impressions of a few of the new guys? Maybe start with Russian defenseman Max Kondratiev.
BB: It was tough to get a good read on Max because a lot of the camp has to do with how people get along off of the ice and obviously he had a tough time with that not being able to speak English. By the end of the week he was joking around with us, although I’m not sure if he really knew what we were talking about a lot of the time. He was willing to learn and was trying to pick things up all week. As a player, he was kind of nervous at the beginning but came in to his own the last few days. He improved over the week and I was pretty impressed with him.
HF: One player a lot of fans don’t know too much about is Tyson Marsh from the WHL’s Vancouver Giants.
BB: I didn’t really know too much about him either. I remember hearing his name last year at the main camp where he was one of the invites, and I thought he was a pretty good player back them. He’s come a long way from last summer as well. He’s got his contract with the Leafs now so he’ll be in the system for a while now. He’s a guy who works pretty hard off the ice and he’s in great shape and understands that part of the game really well.
HF: What about the three guys from the draft this year, Swift Current forward Jeremy Williams, Calgary forward Shaun Landolt and Plymouth forward John Mitchell?
BB: All three of those guys were pretty impressive. They’re all reasonably sized guys with Landolt being bigger then most. Williams has really good hands; he scored something like 90 points last year with Swift Current and he’s a pretty good playmaker. Landolt impressed me. He’s a big guy who has soft hands. I’ve played against John Mitchell for a while now so I knew what to expect from him. I think that he’ll be a third line center kind of guy in the pros. He’s pretty good at everything, but maybe not the most gifted offensively, but a pretty good role player.
HF: How about Portland defenseman David Turon?
BB: He’s another guy that I’ve seen in the past. He has a lot more size then last year. He’s gotten a lot bigger. He’s another guy who keeps himself in pretty good shape. He’s a pretty good, solid defenseman who plays the body. He’s big and strong and that should help him at the next level.
HF: It must be an extra motivation to work hard knowing that there is so much talented competition on the blue line just in your own age group?
BB: Absolutely. Obviously in the past, all I did was compare myself with Carlo (Colaiacovo) and what he was doing in Erie. Trying to work off of that and use it as motivation. He was the only guy I really had to be worried about in the Leafs organization. But now, with Kondratiev, Turon, and a whole bunch of other guys; Ian White is a guy who doesn’t get talked about because he’s a year younger; all of a sudden it seems like there are a lot of good young defensemen in the Leafs system.
HF: Have the Leafs given you any indication if you’ll be making the trip to Sweden (where the Leafs are holding their main training camp this fall)?
BB: Not yet. I’m kind of waiting on that. They haven’t even announced when they’ll announce it yet. I’ve been training with the idea that I’ll be going and I just have to wait and see. I don’t know what they intend to do. I don’t know if they’ll just bring over the 25 guys who’ll pretty much make up the team, or if they’ll bring over some of the younger guys. I’d love to be there.
HF: Barry Trapp has been quoted recently as saying you might be a guy who could surprise people at this year’s camp. That must have been encouraging to hear?
BB: I was surprised when I heard it. A few of my friends in Toronto called me and told me about the article. I knew that I had a pretty good year in Ottawa and that things went really good for me last season. But when you hear someone like Trapp say something like that, it really sinks in. I thought that I might have a pretty good shot at making an impression and if things worked out maybe even sticking at this year’s camp, but when you hear someone like Barry Trapp saying something like that, it was pretty impressive. You just tell yourself that you’ve got to buckle down even harder because people have some pretty high expectations for you.
HF: Do you try to keep track of what the Maple Leafs have been doing in the off-season? They’ve signed veteran defenseman Bryan Marchment, but Pat Quinn has also indicated that they may let some of the younger defensemen compete for spots on the blue line this year?
BB: Yeah, I read the newspapers and go on the internet every couple of days. From my direction, I’m interested in making sure they haven’t signed any defensemen. I’m very interested in it all really; not just the Leafs, but all of the teams in the league. As much as I’m a hockey player, I’m also a hockey fan as well.
HF: If you don’t end up making the team out of training camp, you’ll probably be spending some time in Newfoundland. Have you had a chance to talk to the new coach of the Baby Leafs, Doug Shedden?
BB: He was at the prospects camp, but only for a day or two. They brought him into the dressing room and introduced him before practice. He seems like a real approachable guy. He said a few quick works and that was about it. I didn’t have the chance to talk to him personally, although I would have liked to.
HF: So you didn’t get a chance to talk about a style of play that they expect to play this year in St. John’s, or where you would fit in?
BB: No, I get asked that question quite a bit. They don’t really tell you what they want you to work on until you get to a certain spot, say if you get on the roster with the Leafs or in St. John’s or whatever. I think that’s when they’ll come around and tell you what you need to improve on to fit into the system or a certain style of play.
Hockey’s Future: Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions.
Brendan Bell: No problem.