Every morning at 8:30 a.m. sharp, Brett Brochu wakes up and begins mapping out a path to personal improvement.
“I set goals that I need to do because even if it’s just slightly better each day, you’re still moving forward,” the London Knights goaltender said. “There are mornings you’re not going to feel the same or want to do as much, but I’m making sure I stay self-disciplined and follow my routine.
“I work a lot on self-motivation.”
The only difference between this and any other week of Brochu’s life is he cannot leave his Red Deer, Alta., hotel room — other than when a knock on the door signals it’s time to pick up his meal. The Canadian world junior selection camp’s quarantine lockdown is due to end this weekend.
Brochu is handling the strangest tryout in Hockey Canada history in good spirits. The organization sends motivational quotes and inspirational videos through a group chat before a 10 a.m. camp workout through Zoom.
“In between, I’m stretching and doing hand-eye work,” the 18-year-old from Tilbury said. “I’m putting in five or six hours of training in a day. I’m keeping really busy and making sure I’m staying in shape so when we get out of this, I can hit the ground running.”
He is putting good use to his yoga mat and recently provided stationary bike.
“I’ve been clocking it,” he joked. “Hard, hilly rides. There’s more room than you think (for workout equipment) and I’ve been doing pretty good. They treat us awesome here.”
He often calls nearby fellow Knight Connor McMichael and Hockey Canada security head Bob Martin, who performs the same duties in London, or family and friends back home for some virtual company.
“I’m not a big gamer and I don’t look at social media much to keep a clear head,” Brochu said. “I’ll watch some Netflix shows, but quite frankly, I keep myself down to an hour of it a day so I’m not just sitting in the bed. You get tight and a sore back if you keep doing that.”
When the virus arrived, Brochu was one of the most-talked about players in camp. The starting job is wide open and the undrafted Hockey Canada first-timer has made a major bid for the net.
That hardly surprises Mark and Dale Hunter, who guided the country to gold last year in Ostrava, Czech Republic. It doesn’t surprise anybody around the Knights or OHL opponents who saw his record-setting rookie season firsthand.
“If you were to pick anybody who could handle (this kind of camp curveball), it would be him,” London goaltending coach Daren Machesney said. “What people don’t know is the main reason Brett is successful is what is between his ears. He has the right mentality and he’s a driven kid. This isn’t easy on anybody. If you’re having a good camp, there could naturally be frustration that it was halted, but he’s faced adversity before and tries to make the most out of the situation.
“If you have the mindset, you can still get a lot out of your days.”
Brochu has heard the praise from some national media outlets and his friend Logan Mailloux, the Knights defenceman currently in quarantine in Sweden, pointed out that the young stopper has the enviable ability to play his way into favourable situations no matter what people think of him.
“It’s nice to hear, but the camp is far from over,” Brochu said. “I had an awesome time the first week. We were on four-plus hours a day. I loved it and can’t wait to get back at it. I know once we are back, they’ll try to get the team made as quickly as possible (for the Dec. 13 move to the Edmonton bubble). I felt I could have played better and improved from what I did in the first few games.
“I hope we get to play another one to get feeling good again and get another win.”
Brochu, as is his habit, made the most of the extended offseason. He played in and won an unsanctioned tournament in Toronto and faced shots at pro sessions led by Zack Kassian three times a week back home. He also added 20 pounds to his five-foot-11 frame.
“All of it helped,” he said. “I made sure I over-prepared mentally and physically and there wasn’t anything I could control that would set me back. Everyone was nervous coming into camp but I missed those nerves and feeling the pressure.”
He may still be an undersized curiosity to some, but not Canadian head coach Andre Tourigny. Brochu beat Tourigny’s Ottawa 67’s twice and they were on a possible OHL final collision course last spring until the pandemic scrapped the playoffs.
“The thing that’s always been nice is I know he trusted a smaller guy (in Cedrick Andree) in net in Ottawa,” he said. “For me, that shows not only that size isn’t everything, but stopping the puck and winning is all that matters. Those are the two most important things and that’s what Hockey Canada wants.”
Goaltending in recent times has been all about finding size, but technique and mental strength are still the pillars of success.
“Brett is just a gamer and reads the game extremely well,” Machesney said. “He doesn’t make himself small and does a lot of things that catch up on inches and it is a game of inches. You add that to the fact he is a terrific kid as much as he is a heckuva goalie.
“In London, he’s one of the most liked guys in the room.”
Right now, Brochu is stuck in a room by himself and coping as well as can be expected.
“It’s been really nice outside here so once I’ve done my work, I’ll put a chair up to the window and get some sun,” he said.
As quick as his rise has been, he’s not afraid of the spotlight on the major junior and international stage.
He’s the right guy for the job in these unlikely times and if he performs like he did at the start of camp when things resume, Hockey Canada will have to give him the crease.