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Lessons in patience and persistence

October 29, 2009
Photo: Greg Hamil

by Mike Peck || AHL On The Beat Archive

When players get drafted by a National Hockey League team, the goal is simple: Have a nice long career in the NHL. 

Getting drafted, of course, does not guarantee NHL success or even playing time in “the show.” That’s why persistence and patience are important for prospects at the American Hockey League level. 

With the Rockford IceHogs, primary developmental affiliate of the Chicago Blackhawks, forward Evan Brophey is working on perfecting the two P's of being an AHL prospect. Entering his third season in the AHL, the winger has the persistence aspect down, but now as his development continues in Rockford, his patience will be tested. 

“I should improve from last year,” said Brophey. “Look at my first year (in Rockford). It was an all right year, kind of a feeling-out process. I had a better year last year and got more ice time. Hopefully this year I can do the same thing and improve from last year.” 

After a prolific junior career in the Ontario Hockey League, expectations were high for the Kitchener, Ont., native. Brophey was the Blackhawks’ third-round draft pick (63rd overall) in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft. Following his draft year, Brophey put together 61- and 107-point seasons. The latter was accomplished during his only full campaign with the Plymouth Whalers which concluded with 23 points in 20 postseason games. 

But the points didn’t come as easy for Brophey during his rookie season with Rockford in 2007-08, the team’s first year in the AHL. 

“A player like Evan Brophey comes in two years ago, as a kid, after having a lot of success in junior hockey,” said Chicago Blackhawks general manager of minor league affiliations Mark Bernard. “That doesn’t always translate into immediate success in the pro ranks. 

“The AHL is about players coming here as young kids and leaving here as adults. Our job here is to make them prepared mentally and physically and give them some life lessons that will help them have success in Chicago.” 

In 74 games as a first-year pro, Brophey tallied just 19 points. The winger, however, began to find a niche midway through his rookie season that included some roles he had not played before. 

The numbers did improve last season, as he established himself as a second line center on the IceHogs and accumulated 39 points including 16 goals, four times as many compared to his rookie season. 

“I played different roles my first year,” said Brophey. “My last year in juniors, I was a point player, power play. I played a little different role here. But as a player you’ve got to be able to play those different roles and in different situations. I definitely learned from that experience.” 

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Brophey went from a top-line power-play skater in the OHL to being one of the first forwards summoned to kill them in the AHL. His role with the IceHogs didn’t help him produce more points right away, but it did help boost his confidence. 

The confidence carried through the summer after his rookie season and into Blackhawks training camp in 2008. A big part of the player’s development and confidence comes from the coaches at the AHL level. 

“I thought Brophey has had two really good camps with Chicago,” said IceHogs assistant coach Ted Dent, who has worked with Brophey since his rookie season in Rockford. “Last year he progressed with us here in Rockford. It’s a process with every young player and last year was a good developing year for Broph, and I expect him to take even bigger strides this year.” 

Dent has been the assistant coach for Chicago’s AHL affiliate for the past three seasons and has helped develop current Blackhawks skaters Jordan HendryCam Barker, Dave BollandDustin Byfuglien and Colin Fraser among others. 

“It’s very rewarding for us,” said Dent. “You develop friendships and bonds with these players. They go up and hopefully you never see them back down again. That part of the job for me is the fun part, it’s rewarding.” 

After 163 games with the Rockford IceHogs through Oct. 28, and just 90 minutes down the road from the United Center, the winger is looking for his first recall to the Chicago Blackhawks and the dream of playing in the NHL. 

But even though Brophey didn’t earn a recall to the Blackhawks during the regular season last year, he did earn a spot on the team’s “Black Aces” once Rockford was eliminated from the Calder Cup Playoffs. As a member of the Aces, Brophey joined five other players from last year’s IceHogs team on the Blackhawks as they made a run through the Stanley Cup Playoffs. 

The Black Aces are players not on the active roster but get to practice with the team as well as travel with them throughout the postseason. 

Not only did Brophey get to hang around Chicago during the team’s postseason run last spring, but he also made the trip to Europe with the team earlier this fall. 

“It was an awesome experience just being around the group of guys that I was,” said Brophey about the trip to Switzerland and Finland. “You definitely can bring back some good experience from that trip. For me, it definitely helped my confidence.” 

Brophey played in Chicago’s preseason game against HC Davos in Switzerland. While in Europe, the Blackhawks needed to cut their roster down and Brophey along with four others were reassigned to Rockford. 

Now that he’s back in Rockford for his third season, Brophey hopes his confidence and experience pays off as he looks for his first NHL recall and regular season action in the big show. 

“I think I showed last year that I can play defense as well as offense,” said Brophey. “At the next level you have to take care of your own end before you go play offense. I just want to keep doing that this year.” 

For some it can take years to find a role in the pros and get comfortable. 

Centerman Colin Fraser appeared in 116 games in the AHL, split between the Norfolk Admirals and IceHogs, before making his NHL debut. He played a total of 220 AHL games before finding a permanent spot with the Blackhawks’ fourth line. 

For Hendry, the story was similar. He played 132 games in the AHL before getting the call and now has a home in the Blackhawks’ defensive corps after 191 games between Norfolk and Rockford. 

The key now for Brophey is patience and persistence.