When Brendan Persley was dealt from Prince Albert to Chilliwack on Dec. 28, the news was greeted with a collective yawn by the Bruins fan base.
Persley was traded west for the major junior equivalent of a bag of pucks — a 2010 13th round bantam draft pick. Typically, players dealt for such dreck carry extremely low expectations.
But from his first game, against Kelowna in January, Persley has been doing his best to revise those expectations.
For a guy who still doesn’t have a point 12 games into his Western Hockey League career, Persley has made a good first impression with gritty in-your-face play and a willingness to take on any opponent doing something he doesn’t like.
That he’s doing this as a 16-year-old makes it all the more impressive.
“I think that’s what you need to do when you’re my age and you’re playing on the fourth line,” Persley said at a practice last week. “You need to prove to the coaches that you belong there, and it’s good for me because I’m not scared out there. I kind of like mucking it up and getting into things out there.”
Not every player can bring that mentality to the rink.
As a 16-year-old, Persley really ought to be scared silly playing against guys who are two, three and four years older than he is.
“I don’t really care if I get beat up or anything,” he said. “I’m just trying to do something to give the boys a spark, and hopefully create a bit more room for guys like Ryan (Howse) to shine.”
Persley’s fearless nature can probably be traced back to his home, and growing up with older brother Dave (24 years old now).
“He’s eight years older than I am, and when I was younger, we used to wrestle and stuff,” he explained. “I had a bad temper when I was younger and I’d get quite upset. I wouldn’t care if I lost the fight or not as long as I went in there.”
When Persley was seven years old, he and his family moved into a brand new condominium.
He and his brother christened the place by getting into a wrestling match and kicking a hole in the wall.
“I think we were playing with Nerf guns or something, and he hit me in the face,” Persley recalled. “It hurt and I guess I just lost it. There were so many times growing up when he’d be sleeping and I’d sneak in and do something to tick him off. He spent so much time chasing me around the house.”
The brothers have grown really close since then, to the point where they talk by phone every day.
“He just moved up to Prince George, so mostly we exchange text messages and stuff,” Persley said. “I saw him when we went up two weeks ago for a pair of games against the Cougars. We haven’t fought for a long time, but I think I could probably take him now.”
Persley was the 155th overall selection in the 2008 WHL bantam draft, selected by the Raiders. The Kelowna native wasn’t enthused with the idea of playing so far from home, and originally planned to play junior A with an eye towards snagging an NCAA hockey scholarship.
He started this season with the BCHL’s Vernon Vipers, but didn’t find the league suitable to his rumpus-room style. Sitting out one of every two games, Persley had plenty of time to ponder his future in the press-box, and he used that time to figure out that junior A wasn’t the ideal route for him.
“A lot of the guys in that league are there for the college scholarship, and I’m not really into that,” he said. “I want to be a professional hockey player, and I see this as the fastest route to get there. That’s how I look at it.”
If there was one factor that caused hesitation, it was that the Vipers were a contender for the Royal Bank Cup as the top junior A team in Canada. It’s not often a skater competes for a championship at any level, let alone one with a certain amount of prestige.
That clearly wasn’t enough to hold him back. Persley’s first WHL game was Jan. 20 against the team he grew up rooting for as a child.
Persley skated onto the ice at Kelowna’s Prospera Place with eyes wide open and played that night in front of a large group of friends and family.
He played only a handful of shifts that night, and each time he returned to the bench he looked over at Chilliwack head coach Marc Habscheid, the man who guided his beloved Rockets to their last Memorial Cup title.
“Me and his son (Bruins defenceman Zach Habscheid) played novice hockey together in Kelowna, so I know him from way back then,” Persley said.
Habscheid has been impressed with his newest addition. The veteran bench boss knows how difficult it is to jump into major junior hockey at any age and fit in.
Doing it at 16?
“He’s a smart and gritty player who can play any forward position,” Habscheid said. “He antagonizes the opposition, but he’s young and has to learn to balance that out a bit. We had a pretty good idea about him when we got him, and there wasn’t much risk with what we traded to the Raiders. We wanted to give him the opportunity, and so far he’s doing OK.”
Persley was an offensive leader at just about every level heading up the ladder.
Habscheid said his skating will need to improve before he can do that here, but Persley seems to have the inner-drive to make that happen.
“My role in my bantam years and junior B was to score goals. But we’ve got a lot of guys to do that here, and they need other rolls filled,” Persley said. “Hopefully, next year or the year after I can start putting some points.”