The ECHL has been a retreat for Hurricanes prospect Brad Fast, in both senses of the word. It’s a demotion, a step backward from his AHL Lowell Lock Monsters, but also a chance to renew the spirit, regroup and re-energize from a season that has by any measure been incredibly disappointing.
A former star at Michigan State University, Fast was a finalist for the Hobey Baker award in 2002-03. Selected in the third round of the 1999 NHL Entry Draft by the Carolina Hurricanes, he was the organization’s top offensive defenseman prospect coming into this season, on track to contend for a job with the Hurricanes if the 2004-05 NHL season had been played.
Putting up 35 points in 79 games with Lowell last season, Fast got called up to play with the Hurricanes in the final game of the year. The 25-year-old was named captain of the Lowell Lock Monsters to start the 2004-05 season. But once the season got underway, Fast struggled. Off to a bad start, he saw time in only 32 games, the rest watching as a coach’s decision. He had only six points in those 32 games and was -4.
Hurricanes Director of Amateur Scouting Sheldon Ferguson spoke to Hockey’s Future last week for the forthcoming Top 20 Prospects ranking. He was completely puzzled as to what had happened to Fast this season, speculating that it was perhaps a collapse of confidence.
Brad Fast himself didn’t have many more answers, but he did share his thoughts and feelings about what he’s been through this season.
“It’s been a frustrating year,” Fast described. “It started out good in Lowell, being captain and everything. And then I didn’t play up to expectations and things just sort of snowballed from there. I got out of the line-up and it was tough for me to get back in.”
Naturally if he could pinpoint the problem, he might be able to correct it. But even Fast isn’t sure how the downward spiral occurred. He played with a couple different defensive partners, but could never get back on track.
“I don’t think I was playing up to standards that I set the year before. I never really got things going. Maybe for a game or two, but never really on a steady pace.”
The longer the problems went on, the more it affected his confidence.
“For the first month I was alright. My confidence was still high, I felt really good. But then it started to affect me where I couldn’t do the things I was doing the year before. By Christmastime I was probably at a low. After Christmas I got my confidence back anyway and felt that I started to play better.”
In early March, Fast was assigned to Carolina affiliate Florida Everblades Here he could play a lot of minutes with a team that was short a defenseman. It is a far cry from where he was last season around this time, playing his first NHL game.
“That was a dream come true,” Fast smiled. “I don’t think it could have gone any better than it did. It was unbelievable, better than anyone ever says it is. I had a lot of fun.”
He vividly remembers when he scored a goal right at the end of the game, and also how nervous he was being on the ice to start the game.
Fast came back to an AHL this season that he agreed is a lot tougher due to the NHL lockout.
“Oh yeah, definitely. You can see it everywhere. I’m assuming that this league is a lot better too. But in the AHL there’s so many good players this year. All three lines on every team are very solid.”
Having an off year hasn’t happened at an ideal time as far as Fast’s contract with Carolina goes. It’s up at the end of the season. On the other hand, he is playing while some other players his age are idle due of the lockout.
“I mean, I’d rather not have an off year any year, but I’m just trying to work through it. When I do get a chance to play, I’m trying to make the best of it. Hopefully the end of the season can finish the way I wanted it to. Finish on a good note to go into next year.”
Fast seems to have fit right in with the Everblades. He’s been paired with another NCAA alumnus, 28-year-old Miami of Ohio product Ryan Brindley on a strong defense that includes NHLer Shane Hnidy.
“It’s nice to play again,” Fast said of joining the team. “Get ice time and have the puck on my stick. That’s a big part of my game. So it’s nice to have that here. And get winning again, it’s so much fun. I mean, our team up there (in Lowell) was winning a lot, but I wasn’t in the line-up.”
Florida has been doing plenty of winning lately, going 5-1-1 in their last seven games and clinching a playoff spot. The blueliner has had plenty of the ice time he came down for.
“I’m working on little parts of my game, defense, obviously, but mostly I’m focusing on puck movement and trying to control the play as much as possible.”
In six games with the Everblades, Fast has one assist and is +2. He has played the requisite five games to be on the Blades playoff roster, but he hasn’t yet been told if he’ll remain with Florida for the playoffs.
“If that’s the case, then that’s great, I mean it’s a great team here. If not, then the team in Lowell is making a good run too.”
A good playoff run could to wonders for Fast’s confidence and help him find his game again. His positive attitude will be a big help as well.
“There’s been times in the year where it’s been very tough, but I’ve had a lot of people around who have really helped out – my teammates especially, and family too. But it’s just a matter of keeping it all in focus. Right now I’m really happy to be down here. Good guys, and it’s fun. I’m getting to play and win and I can’t ask for more than that.”
Glen Jackson contributed to this article. Copyright 2005 Hockey’s Future. Do not duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.