by Keegan Welsh || AHL On The Beat Archive
A window of opportunity is granted to every player in the American Hockey League. The way that opportunity is valued, however, is at the discretion of the player.
Enter Julien Brouillette, who signed a professional tryout with the Lake Erie Monsters on Dec. 14, 2010.
Prior to joining the Monsters, Brouillette’s history as a professional consisted of four years in the East Coast Hockey League, with a few brief AHL stints in between.
In a quest for a breakthrough season, he began the 2010-11 campaign in training camp with the Milwaukee Admirals. After Brouillette was one of the final players released from their squad, he started the year with ECHL Greenville.
Through 25 games with the Road Warriors, one thing was evident with the young defenseman: the strength of his offensive touch. He had posted 23 points (11 goals, 12 assists) and a plus-16 rating, and developed a reputation for his strong presence in power-play situations.
Lake Erie general manager David Oliver liked the direction Brouillette’s season was headed.
“You looked at his numbers in the East Coast Hockey League and he was dominating from an offensive standpoint. At the time, we were in the need of a guy to come up and quarterback our power play,” Oliver said.
The Monsters found that, and much more, in Brouillette. He showed promise in even-strength and shorthanded situations, emerging as one of the team’s top four defensemen.
His efforts were reevaluated after his first 22 games with Lake Erie, at which point the Monsters recognized a prospect who deserved a long-term opportunity in their system.
“The one thing that was evident with him was his level of compete. He played hard, he defended hard, and he worked hard,” Oliver said.
Through those efforts Brouillette earned an AHL contract with Lake Erie, which he signed on Feb. 3.
Since then, he has been instrumental to the most successful season in the Monsters’ four-year history. He solidified a defensive core that enabled Lake Erie to set records for wins in a season (44) and claim the organization’s first-ever Calder Cup Playoff berth.
“He’s been invaluable in so many ways,” head coach David Quinn said. “Night in and night out he’s been one of our better players. Just the way he skates and his confidence. He’s a smart, intelligent player, and he’s coachable.”
His confidence has allowed him to develop into a leadership role. As the season progressed, his work ethic set an example for his teammates both on and off the ice.
“Anyone who comes here and watches the way he practices, and the way he takes care of himself, sees he’s such a professional,” Quinn said. “Hopefully the younger guys continue to follow his lead.”
When the Calder Cup Playoff race turned to a sprint, Brouillette elevated his game even further. On Mar. 19, during his second three-game point streak of the season, he scored his first goal as a Monster, the game-winning tally in a 3-2 victory over Milwaukee, the organization that denied him a roster spot at the beginning of the season.
Brouillette posted a point in nine of the last 12 games of the regular season (2-7-9), including his second game-winner of the season in a 3-2 victory over Toronto on Apr. 6.
His offensive ability and his well-known power-play force have been as advertised. Both of his goals and seven of his 15 assists with Lake Erie came on the man advantage.
While the offensive dimension of his game has come as second nature throughout his career, his other main strength, skating, has not.
“If you go back to when I played juniors, it was one of my big weaknesses,” said Brouillette, who doesn’t recall a particular training program that triggered his drastic improvement. “Two years ago, it seems really out of nowhere, but there was like one weekend where for some reason it all came together.”
Today, that former weakness is one of Brouillette’s most notable strengths.
“Now skating is a huge asset for him,” Oliver said. “It has certainly made him look like he more than belongs in the American Hockey League.”
Brouillette has combined the right opportunity, abilities and demeanor to carve a niche for himself in the American Hockey League. Leading by example, he’s revealed the traits every coach looks for in an athlete: character, ability, desire.