ECHL Alum Brookbank Happy To Be In NHL

Like most of the 375 players who’ve gone on to play at the highest level of the game after playing in the ECHL, Sheldon Brookbank’s road to the NHL was not an easy one.

Undrafted after three seasons in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League, he made his professional debut with the ECHL’s Mississippi Sea Wolves at the start of the 2001-02 season.

“Basically, it was just an opportunity to adjust to the pro style of game,” said Brookbank in a telephone conversation.

“The guys are older and they’re going to be a little bit smarter out there. They’re going to play the game differently than what you’re used to from playing against younger guys.”

Look at many of the current ECHL rosters, and you’ll see an interesting mix of players ranging from players like Brookbank, who at the time was just getting started out in his pro career, and veteran players who perhaps might be on their way out of the game.

Either way you look at it, however, the ECHL isn’t an easy place to play.

But Brookbank accepted the challenges of playing in a so-called “Double-A” league, and never gave up on his dream of one day reaching the NHL.

“I always had hope, I never really looked at it as going down a dead-end or anything like that,” he said.

“I just always thought that this was a start, and I wasn’t fully ready to play at a higher level yet anyway. These days, a lot of guys are playing in the (ECHL) and making their way up. It just depends on where you are in your own career, physically and mentally.”

Brookbank, who said he still occasionally keeps tabs on the ECHL, scored 29 points (8-21-29) for the Sea Wolves in his first pro season, which remained a career high until he posted 35 in 2005-06 and then 53 in 2006-07.

Both of those seasons came in the AHL, where the now 28-year-old has spent at least part of the last seven seasons.

When he got there for the first time with the Grand Rapids Griffins, the focus always remained on trying to get to the NHL, and not necessarily worrying about going back to the ECHL.

“When I did make it to the AHL, I wanted to stick there for sure,” he said.

“I didn’t really think about going back to the ECHL that much, but it is in the back of your head a little bit, I guess. But you just kind of want to continue moving forward, and that’s kind of how it worked out.”

In a 2006-07 season that saw him win the Eddie Shore Award as the AHL’s top defenseman, Brookbank also made his NHL debut for the Nashville Predators, finally getting the call in February.

“That was one of the best feelings in the world for me,” said Brookbank, who scored his first point in his first game on an assist during a February 6th, 2007 game in Pittsburgh.

“That’s why you keep playing and that’s what you dream about as a kid, to get that game in the NHL. When it finally happened, it was quite an experience.”

The following off-season, Brookbank signed a free agent contract with the Columbus Blue Jackets, but was waived and subsequently claimed by the New Jersey Devils.

It also served as an unexpected gift as well.

“It happened the day before my birthday, so it was pretty much one of the best birthdays I’ve ever had,” he said.

“But I couldn’t have been happier. Things didn’t really work out as planned in Columbus, and I didn’t really know where I was at in my career. I was really disappointed with how things worked out there, but when New Jersey picked me up, I felt like I got new life into my career. I was just really fortunate to be able to come to this organization.”

After spending most of last season as a defenseman during New Jersey’s inaugural campaign at the Prudential Center, Brookbank has seen some time on the wing this season in addition to his duties on the blueline.

“It’s not the easiest role to have,” admitted Brookbank.

“I’d rather be playing as much as possible and playing defense all the time, but I understand that they have a lot of guys and they have good players here. I just try to do whatever I can and whatever they ask of me. I don’t take any games for granted. I still get to play the game of hockey in the NHL, so it can’t be too bad.”

What also helped matters was that his brother, current Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Wade Brookbank, had assumed a similar role earlier in his career as well.

“We both understand that it’s a privilege to be playing in the NHL,” he said.

“In the end, it doesn’t really matter what your role exactly is, every role’s important on a team. We’ve always understood that, and we don’t take anything for granted.”

The Lanigan, Saskatchewan native now has 60 NHL games under his belt, including 57 with the Devils over the past two seasons. And for every step along the way –whether it be starting out in Mississippi or the four AHL teams he’s played for — he’s thankful for being where he is today.

“It’s not an easy road to the NHL,” Brookbank said.

“For some guys it is, and for some guys it isn’t. But as long as you know what you want and you know what you’re after, it doesn’t really matter how you get there. It’s just a matter that you get there.”

Brookbank knows how many players are in the ECHL now, trying to get to the NHL after starting their careers out there, just like he did.

And for those players, Brookbank left this advice: “Always keep moving forward. Just play your game, play your style and eventually somebody’s going to notice you and somebody’s going to like you. If it’s meant to be, then sooner or later you’ll get your chance. Just be ready to go when you get your chance to move up to the next level.”

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

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2 Responses to “ECHL Alum Brookbank Happy To Be In NHL”

  1. Al (PhillyDevil) Says:

    Sheldon is a solid stay at home d man, than can play a tough wing psoition. I’m glad he is a Devil!

  2. titans04 Says:

    If everybody stays healthy he’ll be working the press box and possibly the waiver wire in the very near future.

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