Rempel honing defensive game at Harvard

By Richard Murray

Brendan Rempel - Harvard University

Photo: Harvard defenseman Brendan Rempel is attempting to draw attention to his game after prolonged absences due to injury or illness (courtesy of Michael Tureski/Icon SMI)

Despite being plagued by injuries and illness early in his collegiate career, Harvard senior defenseman Brendan Rempel is looking to have a breakout season, which could make him a highly sought free-agent for NHL teams in the spring of 2013.

Rempel missed a long period of time during his freshman season due to mono, and last year as a junior he had a nasty leg injury that kept him out over half the season. Rempel was able to battle back after spending time in the hospital and going through multiple surgeries. He is at full health now, he says.

“He certainly battled back, but to spend that much time in the hospital takes its toll,” Harvard coach Ted Donato said of Rempel.

“He came into last season in great shape, and he really looked like he was going to raise his game to the next level. Now, he is approaching a full bill of health, and we are excited to see what he does.”

As a sophomore, Rempel often had to battle is way into the lineup as Harvard was very deep on the blue line. His hard work paid off, as the coaching staff took notice of all the work he put in. Rempel was rewarded with the Most Improved Player award by the team.

Even more impressive about his sophomore year was that Rempel, a stay-at-home defenseman, didn’t have the offensive stats that some of the more offensive players on the team had produced.  Rempel only had three assists, so to earn that kind of award he showed his value on the defensive side.

“It definitely helped boost my confidence to get that kind of recognition,” Rempel said of winning the award.

“We have great coaches, and the one-on-one time I got really benefited my play that year. We spent a lot of time taking a look at my game, and making sure that I play to my strengths. It really helped me mature, and I learned my role on the team to have to battle for playing time. Having to go through that really helped my development.”

Although Rempel has missed a lot of time and has gone through a lot of adversity, his injuries could now be a blessing in disguise.

“Brendan has had some adversity and injury problems, but in the long run that may benefit him because his commitment is even greater now because of the injuries,” Donato said. 

The 6'3” Rempel has established himself as one of the more intimidating players at the collegiate level. His size naturally allows him to play a physical game, while he also can use his size in other ways to help keep pucks out of the Crimson goal.

“He has great reach, and his size creates a natural physical presence,” Donato said of Rempel. “He is a very good open ice hitter, and he is very comfortable throwing his body around. That size and strength is one of his top assets.”

Playing for the U.S. NTDP team prior to attending Harvard has given Rempel several advantages that many players don’t have before entering college. Rempel got to play a college and USHL schedule with the U.S. team, which can really help a player prepare himself for the college talent he is now competing with and against.

“They play a substantial college schedule, so I think the schedule with its college program does prepare players for the [collegiate] level,” Donato said. “Playing against college players before college allows you to see the size, speed, and strength of the college game, which helps them from a training stand point, too.”

Rempel’s defensive abilities are also helping his sophomore partner, Patrick McNally, open up is offensive game.

“Obviously it is very helpful to have a defensive guy like Brendan back there with me,” said McNally, who is also Vancouver Canucks prospect.  “He is very good defensively, so that helps me feel more comfortable when I want to jump in the rush. I know that Brendan is there to back me up when I jump into the rush, and it helps me play a better game.”

Although Rempel’s goal is to play at the professional level, he is not losing site of taking it day-by-day at Harvard. Some players could become distracted by the prospect of signing after the season, but the better Rempel plays, the more offers he will receive.

“There really isn’t much of [a distraction], and you try not to really think about signing now,” Rempel said. “Right now we are just trying to focus on the next game, and if you start thinking about that other kind of stuff it can mess with your focus and game.”

With his focus and determination after all the adversity he has faced, Rempel is making a case to be a player multiple NHL teams will call upon in the spring.

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