After progressing through the minor ranks in Cambridge, Bryan Little started to realize he would more than likely be able to make a solid run at a hockey career.
The former OHL rookie of the year and two-time All-Star has become the driving force behind the Barrie Colts this year, who skate out of the league’s Central Division.
Finishing the 2005-06 season with a total of 109 points (42 goals, 67 assists), Little tied St. Mike’s center Justin Donati for sixth overall in scoring. During the process, Little made a lot of noise and gained a lot of attention for his steady play, relentless drive and keen playmaking ability.
Hockey’s Future caught up with the humble center this past week. Little talked about his career in junior and looked ahead to draft in June.
HF: At what point did you realize that you could think about playing hockey for a career?
BL: Probably around my junior B year, which was also my OHL draft year. When I was playing there, more and more scouts were coming to the arena and I was on the OHL rankings for their draft. I would say that that was about the time I gave it some serious thought.
HF: How did that change your approach towards the game?
BL: I took it a lot more serious. After my junior B season, I really stepped it up with my off-ice training. I worked out really hard that summer going into the OHL camp. I think that has helped me even today. I work even harder every summer to get better and be ready for the upcoming season.
HF: What was it like playing in your first season in the OHL?
BL: It was a little surprising to be honest. I didn’t know what to expect heading into my first season in the OHL. I surprised myself because I got quite a bit of ice time my first year. I think that really helped as well as the prior season where I was playing against older guys in junior B.
HF: Did you think you were going to make that big of an impression as a rookie?
BL: Not really. When I came to Barrie, I thought I was going to get fourth line minutes and kind of ease into the league. I got an opportunity right away playing on the second line and on the power play, and penalty kill. I was able to gain my confidence really quickly.
HF: When you came into your second season with the team and the league, did you feel any pressure? Where you asking yourself, ‘How am I going to follow this up?’
BL: Absolutely. After my second season we lost a couple of key members who led the team my first year. There were a couple of us who were looked at to lead the team and we had that pressure on our shoulders. Yeah, there was some pressure but I think I handled it pretty well.
HF: You went on to lead the team in goals scored and finished second in overall scoring to Rob Hisey. How was that?
BL: It was pretty good. I wanted to do just as well my second year and improve on my first. I felt I did a good job accomplishing that and I think I progressed from my first season and got better as a player.
HF: You also got selected to the league’s All-Star game for the Eastern Conference team. What was that like?
BL: That was exciting. I wasn’t too sure about it heading into the contest but it was a good experience to play around with the best players in the league.
HF: Last summer, you got a chance to skate at Canada’s summer National Junior camp.
BL: That was really exciting. It was also a big step because it was very intense. I believe it also helped me get off to a strong start early on this past season.
HF: Did it sting a little when you ended up not getting selected to the Vancouver team?
BL: It stung a bit because I thought I had a great camp. Then I went to go on and play in the Canada-Russia Challenge. I was also invited to the final camp in Vancouver but I didn’t make it. It hurt a bit but I didn’t get too down about it. I cheered for them and I’m happy they did good because they won the championship. I’ll try to make it this year.
HF: Coming into this season, you had a lot of good building blocks under you, did you feel even more pressure now that this was your draft year or did you just approach it as you would any regular year?
BL: I knew there was going to be a lot of pressure on me, especially when I was named captain and it was my draft year. I think I handled it pretty well. I really didn’t try to worry about things and let it bother me much. I came out and played my best every game, worrying about what I could do to help out.
HF: You mentioned your appointment as captain. What did that mean to you?
BL: It meant a lot to me. I was named captain at 17 years old, which is pretty young in our league. I took it on as a challenge and I think I got better as I developed in the role as the season went on.
HF: When you get into situations like these where you face adversity, how do you approach it? Do you put a lot of pressure on yourself and set your expectations very high? Do you use situations like these to keep yourself grounded and to help push yourself even harder?
BL: I always try to keep myself grounded but at the same time, I want to set my expectations high. If I do feel let down or I don’t reach my expectations I turn it around and take it on as a challenge either for myself or to prove the doubters wrong.
HF: Moving into this year, can you talk about the 11-game and a 21-game point streak you had during the season?
BL: Everything was going right. During those games, I wasn’t really thinking about any streak. I approached every game the same, wanting to be able to help my team and produce. That is when I felt I was playing my most consistent hockey. I was chipping in almost every night but it all went by pretty fast. Near the end of all of I reflected how far I was in and that’s when I realized how long I went without scoring a point.
HF: Looking back at those streaks, did you feel it was more of a matter that you were clicking on all cylinders or was it more that the entire team was clicking extremely well?
BL: I think it was a combination of it all. The whole team was doing well, but our line was hot. That’s when you’re going to get those kinds of points and streaks. My line was great all year and I think they had a huge part in my success too.
HF: You’ve never had a hard time scoring in the league, but what was it like to hit the 100-point plateau?
BL: It was great. I came into this season wanting out do my points from last year. I think the difference this year over other seasons had a lot to do with getting a quick start. I basically got on top of it early on and carried throughout the season. I honestly didn’t expect to get those many points but it was a nice surprise and I’m very proud of that.
HF: How important is it to have the momentum in your favor?
BL: It’s huge, especially at the start of any season. You want to start off quick. Looking back at my first two years, I had some trouble scoring during the first 10-15 games. Now I realized I was holding the stick way too tight. This past season, I was quiet in preseason but once the regular season started I took off right away. I also earned my confidence early on and it helped throughout the whole season.
HF: You also earned a second trip to the OHL All-Star game and you got to play in the CHL/NHL Top Prospects game up in Ottawa. How was it to be recognized as a top player among your peers?
BL: It was fun this year because I could relax knowing what to expect. I had a lot of fun during the All-Star event. The prospects game was pretty intense though. You’re sitting there doing the testing and playing, knowing that there is going to be a lot of scouts and possibly some NHL General Managers in the building. That made it a bit more intense which can make you a little nervous. I was happy with my performance though.
HF: How did the level of intensity differ from some of the bigger regular season games you’ve played in?
BL: I think on a personal level it is a bit more intense. For example, you’re sitting in the locker room with a bunch of guys you’re not too familiar with but you still have to get ready for this game. Everyone gets a bit nervous because you’re sitting there thinking about how you’re going to play. The actual game was pretty intense because the hard hitting and the amount of goals. It was just as great to experience this much like the all-star game, but there was definitely a higher level of intensity and seriousness surrounding it.
HF: Because the guys are coming out hard in an exhibition game like this, do you think it is better for everyone to keep it real so to speak and not just go out there as an individual and showboat?
BL: Absolutely, because in a game like this, no one wants to see that stuff like that. You want to see guys battling and not trying to be individuals. It’s only one game and it’s key that we all played good.
HF: What is one or a couple of things that you are extremely proud of, which you have accomplished so far as a player?
BL: Winning the U18 tournament for Team Canada in Slovakia last summer. Just being named to that team and winning gold was a fun experience. I haven’t won too many championships so something like that is nice.
HF: How much has playing in the OHL helped you develop as a person and as a player?
BL: I think it is huge. I feel that I’ve developed into a better player and that I have rounded out my game a bit. I think you mature faster because you’re surrounded by older players, you have to handle yourself at a higher level and you have to do the right things. Then, when you’re the older guy, you have to show the newer guys the way. I think that helps you a lot both on and off the ice as a person.
HF: Looking forward to June and the draft, do you think much will change for you after a team picks you?
BL: It’s going to be exciting. I’ve been looking forward to this for a few years. Everyone has been talking about it, so when it happens it’s really going to be exciting. I don’t think it is going to change how I approach the game or a season. If I’m back in Barrie next year, I’m going to do my best for the team and trying to get better as a player. I really don’t think much is going to change overall.
HF: But you’re really going to be the popular guy on the block, no?
BL: (Laughing) Yeah, it’s going to be a pretty good experience I guess.
Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.