Cornell University Assistant Coach Brent Brekke handles the defensemen behind the bench for the Big Red. One of his players, freshman defensemen Ryan O’Byrne, was selected 79th overall this summer by the Montreal Canadiens in the third round. Brekke discussed O’Byrne’s progress with Hockey’s Future and how the team would bounce back after losing one of the top goalies in the NCAA and three senior defensemen.
HF: How has O’Byrne looked so far this season?
BB: He’s done well so far with the adjustment from juniors to Division I hockey. He’s a big, strong young kid, who’s starting to learn to use his size better. He’s made big strides over his first few games, as he learns from the mistakes he made in juniors.
HF: What pairing is he playing on, and how much ice time is he getting a game on average?
BB: Ryan is playing mostly with Jeremy Downs, a junior defensemen. Both are good skating defensemen with good work ethic, so we can play them against the top offensive lines. Ryan is playing around 14-15 minutes a game, in all situations except the power play, as we already have players for that role from last year. I could see him playing that role in the future, as he’s got good skills with the puck.
HF: With having three freshman on defense, is that a problem, or are they rotated in and out?
BB: No it’s not a problem, more of an adjustment, as any team that loses three senior defensemen and a top notch goalie, will have questions from the blueline and in nets. We switch them around a bit, as some have had trouble with their play away from the puck, and adjusting to the bigger, stronger, faster players.
HF: Do you have any areas of concerns that O’Byrne will need to address?
BB: I wouldn’t say any major concerns, but we’d like to see him have more consistency of play with the puck, and more confidence, as he is held accountable for his play on the ice. But he’s made big strides already, as he has shown a lot more control in his game without being less aggressive.
HF: Does Cornell require its players to adhere to a weight training program?
BB: Yes we do. We have someone work with the players on a year round program, with off-season training as well. The players must keep up a certain level of fitness, so we have someone work with them to maintain their strength and endurance.