When people look at Brendan Walsh before seeing him play, they may be tempted to see simply a hockey player who, at 5’10”, 200 pounds, looks smaller than most of his opponents.
What they don’t see until watching him play is the heart and desire, the intensity and passion that he brings to the Providence Bruins’ lineup every game.
Now playing in his fourth professional season, the 29-year-old native of nearby Dorchester, Mass., is enjoying the best season of his career. He has already established new career-highs in goals (8) and points (12), and began last weekend leading the team and ranking fifth in the AHL with 200 PIM. He says that after spending time in other cities, returning home to play has impacted his season.
“There’s no question, it’s been nice to come back to the area where I grew up, and be close to home,” he says. “The familiarity of being in my area, so my family and friends can watch me play, has been very exciting for me. And to put on the Bruins’ jersey has been so special. I play hard and bleed for my team, no matter who it is, but it’s been even more special for me to be in the Bruins’ system, after rooting for them while I was growing up near Boston.”
Always known for his physical play, Walsh has taken the offensive side of his game to a new level, and recently had a four-game goal-scoring streak, as well as his first career multiple-goal game.
“I knew that I could do more offensively than I’d done in the past,” he explains. “I think I’m playing simpler now, not trying to overcomplicate the game. I understand at this point in my career, how I have to play the game. I have to skate hard and go to the net; most of my goals will probably come from two feet out.
“I’ve found confidence that I never had before. Some of it is just from experience, and in the last couple of years, I think my attention to conditioning has helped tremendously. I’ve hit the weights harder, and just tried to prepare myself for games better. I know that the more I work at it, and the more positive an attitude I have, the better I’ll play. And once I do that, the ice time will come. So that helps to build confidence.”
Gaining and maintaining confidence can be one of the tricks for a professional hockey player. It’s a long season, and it’s easier said than done to keep oneself on an even keel for the duration.
“When you’re not playing well, you have to find little ways to build back up again,” Walsh says. “I think you have to take little steps to regain it. It may be that you’re on the bench and have to tell yourself there’s this one little thing you have to do on your next shift. Then when you do that, you feel better about yourself again, and you set another little goal. As those little goals start to be accomplished, your confidence and your game will come around again. A positive attitude is the key.”
Walsh’s positive attitude has been felt around the Bruins’ dressing room, and is appreciated by head coach Scott Gordon.
“Walshy brings a passion and an energy to the team, and everyone feeds off of it,” he says. “He loves playing the game, works very hard, and will do anything for his team, on and off the ice. He’s been a great presence and leader on our club.”
Walsh began learning about leadership while playing for the late Shawn Walsh (no relation) at the University of Maine.
“Shawn Walsh expected a lot out of his older players, and that really wound up being a wake-up call for me,” he explains. “I learned a lot in terms of how to deal with people as individuals, just looking for the positives in people. You can’t dwell on negatives; I find them to be counter-productive. If one of your teammates is struggling, you have to help him out of it, by injecting him with confidence. I like to think that if we can help each other do things now, we’ll all be better for it tomorrow. That’s what being part of a team is all about.”
Leadership for Walsh is not just on the ice. When the Bruins organization began a Thanksgiving Food Drive, Walsh decided that he would collect money from each player on the team, to be donated along with the collected food items to the Rhode Island Community Food Bank.
“Thanksgiving in my family has always been the big holiday,” he says. “It hasn’t become overly commercialized, and you’re not in that high-stress period of battling through crowded stores shopping for gifts. It’s all about being with your family and friends, relaxing and enjoying a nice meal together. I just thought that we were in a good position to help some people who were maybe going through a difficult time, during a point in the year that should be a happy time.”
That energy, enthusiasm and leadership has become a major part of Walsh’s makeup. It all stems from his enjoyment of what he does for a living.
“I’m a very lucky guy, playing hockey for a living. It’s definitely a job, and there has to be that approach, but it’s still a game. You should be mindful and thankful for the opportunity to be a professional athlete, to have the locker room camaraderie, and to be paid to play a game that you love. I’m playing near my home, I’m playing my favorite sport and I’m in a situation with good guys for teammates, and a great coaching staff. I can’t think of a better situation.”