Matt Bradley’s Long Journey: From His First Skates To A Professional Contract

By Rich Herles
Every day we read in the newspaper, or see on TV, some professional sports person getting an outrageous contract for playing his chosen sport. I agree that it seems out of line that somebody should be paid millions of dollars a year to play a kid’s game, while the majority of the work force has to grind out a living day in and day out.

As we hear about these sports/entertainment millionaires, we should remember that for every multi-million dollar contract there are thousands of players who are just making what we might consider a good living. With the help of Matt Bradley, I would like to take you on a journey. We will take a look at how this young man went from his first pair of skates in his backyard in Stittsville, Ontario, Canada, to a professional hockey contract with the San Jose Sharks.

Matt started skating at the age of 4. “I started on skates with 2 blades on each of them. I was pretty much just walking on the ice. That’s how both of my sisters, Cassie and Paula, and myself all learned how to skate. As I started to get a feel for the ice I moved to the one blade skates. I remember seeing pictures of how bent my ankles were. My ankles weren’t strong enough, but that’s how you have to learn. You start taking small steps, then you are walking around on the ice, eventually you glide a bit and then one day you suddenly start skating around.” As you can see Matt already had an interest in hockey.

Like a lot of young boys, Matt was introduced to sports at a young age. At the age of 6, he joined his first hockey team, which was the tyke/novice team in his hometown, the Stittsville Redman. “I remember that my dad coached that team along with another kid’s father. That was when hockey was it’s most pure, because no one worried about money or anything like that. Growing up in Stittsville was so much fun because everybody was just there for the love of hockey and we always had a lot of fun playing.”

Looking back at that level of play Matt recalled, “It was obviously not to serious hockey. Some kids were still learning how to skate and we were starting to learn the positions and basics. Everybody pretty much just chased the puck around.” As for the rules “at this age they tend to let some things slide.”

Seeing as Matt started playing hockey so young, he was able to play novice hockey for 3 or 4 years. During that time his love of playing hockey grew. He was now not only playing on the local league in Stittsville, but he was playing in summer leagues with players like Jay McKee (now with the Buffalo Sabres) and attending summer hockey camps that were taught by coaches like Jacques Martin of the Ottawa Senators (pictured left).
Matt graduated to the Adam level of play with his Stittsville team. “In Stittsville we had competitive hockey, but it wasn’t that serious. We had plays, but guys were pretty young and they were still doing pretty much what they wanted to do.”

“When I was old enough to play Major Adam, I went to play with the Ottawa Valley Titians. In Stittsville, there was only an A Level team, but the Ottawa Valley League was at the Triple A Level. The Titians were a more structured team with forechecking and set plays. It was almost like playing in the AHL, but at a smaller scale. Obviously, as younger guys, we were not able to perform at an AHL level. This is where we first leaned cycling. Cycling is when the three forward players keep skating in a circle in the opposing team’s end and they keep dropping the puck back to the next player while looking for a opportunity to score. It’s a basic play that you learn at a young age and if you are able to execute it, it’s very effective, because the defense doesn’t know if you are going to drop it back or walk in on the net. They have to keep chasing you around and if you do it well you can really frustrate a team

Matt moved up with the Ottawa Valley Titans through the Major Adam level, the Minor Peewee level, the Major Peewee level. “You were playing with kids your age and every year you moved up another level. We had a good team and we were probably one of the better teams in Ontario.”

The next year was hard on Matt. It was his Minor Bantam level and he faced his first setback. “I got cut from the Titans. So, I ended up playing for another team, Ottawa West. They didn’t have as many players and I was able to play more.”

The next year is probably the most important year in a young hockey player’s career. This is the Major bantam level and at the beginning of this level is when you are drafted into junior hockey. Junior hockey is divided into Major Junior (the highest level of junior hockey in Canada) and Tier 2 Junior hockey.

Major Junior hockey is divided into the Ontario League, the Quebec league and the Western league. This level is usually where you are drafted by the NHL.

Tier 2 Junior Hockey is right below Major Junior hockey and this is where most players play their first year after Major Bantam. This is, also, where any player who is considering going to college and playing hockey must play. The rules are very strict as to how much time you are allowed to be at a Major Junior Camp. If you are at a camp for more than 48 hours you lose your eligibility to play for an American University. Also, you are not allowed to have an agent but most players have “friends of the family” that help guide a player through these times. (Some of these rules are starting to change because the colleges are trying to entice some of the better players to attend college.)

Matt’s Major Bantam year was another year of disappointment. Again, he went out for the Titans and again he was cut. “After I was cut from the Titians I went to play for an A Level team in Kenetta, that was only five minutes from my home. They were a better team than the one in Stittsville because they were a bigger town and had more players to pick from. I played there for half of a season and then the Titians called me up to play with them for the last half of my Major Bantam year.” Not being with the Titians at the beginning of the year when the draft occurred, Matt wasn’t drafted. The possibilities of advancing farther in his hockey career didn’t look too good, but even after he hadn’t been drafted to the junior’s Matt thought that he wasn’t ready to give up. That summer he attended a conditioning camp to work on his skills.

Working at that camp were two people that Matt credits with turning his career around. “Bill Irwin and Bill Carbonette (the Coach and Scout of the Cumberland Grads in the Central Junior Hockey League) worked with me at the camp and they offered me a tryout that fall. I had a really good tryout at camp and I made the team. I felt really great, because at that camp there were a lot of guys that had been drafted from the Titans and not many of them made it on the team. My year with Cumberland was probably the best of my career as for coaching and with people helping me. They gave me a chance to play a lot and I think that, that’s the reason that I was drafted to the OHL. It was kind of my break through year. There were always OHL scouts and American university scouts at our games and I was lucky, because that is when my career really took off. I was drafted in the second round and I had made a couple of recruiting trips to some universities.”

“Cumberland was about an hour from my home and I really have to give my parents credit for helping me stay at home that year. Every day my dad would drive me all the way over to practice and to the games, so that I could attend school at home.”

“Going to the OHL was a really big decis
ion to make. So, at the age of sixteen, I sat down with my parents and we had a lot of long talks about what to do. ‘Did I think that I really had a chance to make it in the OHL? Should I try the OHL knowing that if I didn’t make it I had given up a free education?’ When I was drafted pretty high to the OHL, I thought that I would go to the OHL because it was a better way to get to the NHL. Also, the OHL was trying to keep their good players from going to the colleges by giving them ““schoolboy packages”. It depended upon how high you were drafted as to how good it was. For every year that you played, they would give you a certain amount of money that you could use toward school. So, by being drafted that high I still would get pretty good money to go to school if the OHL didn’t work out.”

“Once I went to the OHL in Kingston which is about two hours away, I lived with a family. This is called the “Billeting System”. Although my “billets” didn’t care to be called billets, because they were really like a second family to me. They were responsible for me like my parents. They cooked my meals, did my laundry, made sure I went to school and pretty much treated me like one of the family. I had to report to them if I wanted to do something and I had to help out around the house. It’s not like you can just do nothing. The Egger’s were the family that I stayed with. Kelley and Gerhart Egger, along with their children (Drake, Kyle and Mike) made the transition easy for me, because they are such a great family and I think of them still as my second family. I go back and visit during the summer and we keep in touch during the year.”

“My first year with Kingston Frontenacs was another important year, because this was my draft year for the NHL. I had a descent year, not great, but good enough to be drafted by the NHL San Jose Sharks in the fourth round. I wasn’t ecstatic about that. I would have liked to have gone a bit higher, but at least I had my foot in the door.”

“My next year with Kingston I improved even more and I was invited to go to the World Junior Camp that summer. This was a pretty big deal, because it’s competing with all the kids in Canada. More people watch it than anything else in Canada and TSN’s highest ratings are during the World Junior’s.”

“My best year was my third year at Kingston. I had such a good year that I was invited back to the final camp in Kitchener for the World Junior’s team at Christmas. I made team Canada and we went over to Sweden for a week of practice and exhibition games. Then we played in the World Junior Tournament in Helsinki, Finland. We didn’t do that well. Canada had won five gold metals and we came in eighth. I was surprised that they let us back in the country, but it was a great experience that I’ll never forget. Being able to represent your country no matter how you finish is something that you just can’t imagine. It was definitely one of the highlights of my career.”

“When I got back I was selected to play in the OHL All-star game. It was another highlight being coached in the all-star game by Don Cherry. He was quite a character with his big bright suits and his legendary sayings.”

Something that no one knew until after the All-star break was that Matt had played in the final World Junior’s Team camp, the World Junior’s Tournament and the OHL All-star game with a broken rib.

“After my third year with Kingston, I went to Ottawa to meet with my agent, because I hadn’t signed my contract with San Jose yet. You have two years to sign your contract after you are drafted and after the year that I just had, maybe I was looking for a little bit more than what a fourth rounder would normally ask for. I left it all up to my agent, Larry Kelley. He represents other NHL players like Doug Gillmour, Mike Vernon, Steve Yzerman and many other big names. It went down to the wire before I finally signed.”

“Once you sign your contract that is when your work really starts. I worked on my strength, conditioning and power skating. I got a trainer named Bob Tyson who I still have. He is great and my strength has gone through the roof. San Jose sent me to the camp at St. Catherine’s for two weeks prior to my going to the World Junior camp. The hard work over the summer paid off in my improvement my fourth year at Kingston. Also, I could see that the hard work paid off as I won the fitness award for rookies the last two years at the San Jose Training Camp.”

Just because you have a NHL contract, it doesn’t mean that you are going to play in the NHL. There are a lot of factors that go into playing up at the NHL level. As Matt has found out, not only do you have to constantly keep working on your strength and conditioning, as well as your hockey skills, but also there has to be a place for you on the team. Until all three of these conditions occur often players have to hone their craft in the AHL. After the way that Matt has contributed to the Kentucky Thoroughblades of the AHL, the past two years, it shouldn’t be long before he makes the leap into the NHL for good.

Remember Keep Your Stick On The Ice And Your Eye On Your Goal!!!

Bio: Matt Bradley
Position: Right Wing Shoots: Right
Height: 6’2” Weight: 195#
Born: June 13,1978 in Stittsville, Ontario, Canada
Drafted: 102nd by San Jose Sharks in the 4th round of the 1995 draft

Rich Herles covers AHL Rookie Prospects for Just Hockey magazine & web site; Hockey’s Trade Rumors web site; Hockey’s Future web site; Euroreport web site
Contact him at [email protected]

Copyright © 2000 by Richard G. Herles Any reprinting of this article without written permission is prohibited. (Reprinting via email is authorized by Rich Herles)