Knoxville Ice Bears forward Brady Fleurent isn’t used to missing a lot of time on the ice.
So when the pandemic shut down local rinks and limited his offseason skating, it was an unusual change of pace for the University of New England’s all-time leader in points. When Fleurent suffered multiple injuries last year, he missed 17 games overall (he missed three total through four years in college). It’s no surprise he’s focused on staying healthy for his third season in Knoxville after being placed on the team’s protected list.
Growing up in Biddeford, Maine, a town of about 21,000 people less than a hundred miles north of Boston, Fleurent had a successful collegiate career for the Nor’Easters, a team that hadn’t had a winning record in the modern era before his arrival in 2015. He paced New England to the school’s first conference tournament championship in program history and its first two appearances in the NCAA Tournament.
He has 36 points in 52 career games in Knoxville. He’s also played 25 games in the ECHL for four different teams. After making his first SPHL postseason appearance last month, Ice Bears Director of Broadcasting Joel Silverberg caught up with Fleurent to breakdown his offseason plans, talk about the mental challenges of the past year and more.
Before the pandemic, what is an average day for you guys like when it’s not a game day? What sort of stuff are you doing after practice?
Usually after practice, a lot of us like to get lunch together. Usually from the rink, we get a good 10-12 guys together. Depending on the weather, a lot of the guys like to sit by the pool. At the beginning of the week, we like to golf. We had a lot of guys that like to game this year because of the pandemic so a lot of napping and a lot of video games.
Who’s the best gamer on the team?
I heard Andrew McLean was the big gamer. I’m not a big gamer, but Nick Master and Andrew would always play.
What about for you? What was a typical day like for you if you didn’t have a game that night?
I was pretty simple to be honest. If we had practice, I’d come back in the afternoon and I’d watch a lot of Netflix and I’d like to get a lot of naps in. I was a big napper. When it was a rainy day a lot of Netflix and napping. If the weather was nice I was always by the pool. I was always trying to get the nice weather in. I was either by the pool or playing golf.
How’s the golf game? What sort of handicap are we working with here?
Currently I’m at a six. Hopefully I can keep it around there. First couple of rounds back home, I’ve been shooting mid-80s, but when I’m in mid-summer form I’m usually like low 80s-high-70s so I’m hoping to get back there soon.
What show on Netflix were you watching the most?
Oh, I went through ‘em all. I’m a big One Tree Hill guy on Hulu. That was my favorite show of all time so I rewatched that a bunch.
So what’s the next show that you haven’t seen yet that you’re looking forward to watching?
I don’t know. I need one. I need a new suggestion. I got really into Outer Banks during quarantine last year so I’m waiting for season two to come in a couple weeks so I’m looking forward to that.
Have you seen Brooklyn 99 yet?
I have not.
That’s your next one.
All right. I’ll have to give it a try [laughs].
With the pandemic, what were some of the mental challenges like with all of those restrictions going on?
There was honestly a lot. With hockey, you like to do a lot of stuff together as a team and with the COVID protocols, it was tough to do that. We’d try to hang out in the apartments as much as possible, but even that’s kinda frowned upon to be all together at the same time in case somebody did have a case that we didn’t know. Not being able to hang out with your teammates and do fun activities with them was definitely pretty challenging and on the ice, it’s tough to get to know your teammates if you’re not doing stuff with them off the ice.
You had your first pro hat trick back in January and you did it less than halfway through the second period. What do you remember about that game? What was working for you?
Right off the get-go, I was just flying off the hop. I love playing in Knoxville at home. I remember we had an early power play and I got a rebound from there. I was just feeling it that night. I felt like a hot stick. I was just trying to shoot everything. It seemed like everything I shot was going in. The third goal was a no-look shot that just found its way. When you’re feeling it and you have that, you just put pucks on net and you’ll never know what will go in.
What are the most noticeable differences between the college game to the SPHL and ECHL?
I think it’s a lot deeper. Coming from Division III, you have your two top lines for most teams are good, but the third and fourth lines can drop off. In the SPHL and ECHL, every guy deserves to be there and is playing there for a reason. It’s definitely a deep league. It’s about being more simple. Fewer turnovers, more pucks deep. Playing with ten forwards at first last year was definitely a little different, but you get used to it. I think the pro game is more structured, not run-n’-gun. In college, I had a lot of run-n’-gun, turnovers going the other way. Pro hockey is a lot more pack it in and control.
You were placed on the team’s protected list earlier this month. What did it mean that the Ice Bears wanted to bring you back for a third season?
It was awesome. It was definitely an honor to see a bunch of those guys on that list as well. We had a great group of guys this year. To see a lot of them protected was pretty awesome. I’m hoping everything works out and I can be in Knoxville again.
Have you talked to any of the other guys on the team about coming back next season, looking at trying out for different teams, or playing overseas?
Yeah, I’ve talked to a few guys. It’s still pretty early on with everything. I think guys are still trying to figure out where they want to go and what they want to do next. I’ve kept in contact with a good amount of guys and hopefully with next year not being a COVID year, we can still get back a lot of key guys from this past year.
You had a couple of stints on the IR this past year. How are you feeling now?
I feel good now. It was definitely a pretty frustrating year mentally with those injuries. The body feels good now. I’m hoping those don’t happen again and I can stay healthy all of next year
Are you planning any sort of changes to your offseason workouts to help with injury prevention more?
Yeah, I probably will. Last summer was tough because gyms were closed during quarantine from the beginning for me and all the ice rinks were closed so I really couldn’t skate at all last summer. I think that was a little different for me going into this year. I’m hoping that I should be able to stay healthy and do more along the lines of that so those injuries don’t happen again next year.
Do you think the lack of offseason ice time had anything to do with those injuries?
Maybe a little bit, but I don’t think too much. I think they were just two freak injuries. The first one was just an awkward hit where my groin kind of just tweaked, which that can happen anytime randomly. For the second one, the doctor said it was from the groin with the way I got hit through my back because I was overusing my back. It was just two bad luck situations. It was a tough year like that. Sometimes it happens. I had never gotten hurt in my career until this year. It was definitely a tough year mentally dealing with those, especially never having to miss much time. I’m hoping it was just two fluke things and I can go back to normal and play the whole year.
How different did it feel on the ice with the crowds being smaller due to the attendance restrictions?
Oh, it was definitely different. Luckily, Knoxville felt like—no matter the amount of fans—it was still super loud in there so it felt great to play at home. Once we started to get more (fans) at the end, you could definitely tell how much louder and how awesome it was. On the road, it’s tough to get up for games sometimes if there are not that many fans in the crowd. The emotion and all the crowd noise gets you going as a player. Sometimes when you don’t have that, it’s not as easy to get going and it’s tough to play your game at first. It’s not as fun without having a lot of funs there, so it’s pretty difficult to get used to at first.
You all had one of the best home records in the league season. What was the atmosphere like in the Coliseum this year? It seemed like the fans did a nice job of getting loud even with those smaller crowds?
Yeah, absolutely. Regardless of the number of fans we had per game, it still felt the same. We still felt like the building was rocking every night. We had great support from all the fans. It was awesome. We really enjoyed playing in front of our own fans. I think that’s a reason why our home record was so great because of how loud they do get. When we score and they get loud, I think we gain a lot of momentum from that.
Your rookie season was cut short because of the pandemic so what was it like to finally play in a professional postseason game this year?
It felt good to finally play playoff games again. Not the result we wanted with how it ended up, but it was still great to be in that atmosphere of playoff hockey again. Watching the playoffs on TV last year in the NHL without fans—just seeing that they had playoff hockey. Playoff games are just another gear and it felt good to be back in there, especially at a pro-level. Having my first playoff game this year was pretty awesome.
How tough was it to lose that final game down in Pensacola?
It was heartbreaking, especially how it all ended up. We were up for most of the game, then those two flukey goals. It happened quick and it was definitely not what we wanted or the way we wanted it to end, but I think we had a great season and you just kinda had to be positive at that point. I didn’t think we deserved a sweep like that, but sometimes that’s how it goes. I think Pensacola got hot at the right time and, to be honest, I think they got the bounces that game, and kudos to them, but we just didn’t get the bounces.
I think the puck—it could be penalties as well. When you’re hot, it seems like everything can hit off a skate and go in. You could have an empty net and it’ll hop over your stick or it’ll be an inch away from being a goal. I think when we had our really long win streak this year, all the bounces were going our way. Every goal would be right on your stick. Sometimes goals that wouldn’t go in a normal game, the bounce will go your way. Sometimes when you’re not getting them, you’ll get a flukey goal against and stuff like that. Little flips, little bounces, pucks over the stick, some calls, it all depends on that.
Where do the Ice Bears go from here? How do you feel about the team moving forward into next season?
I think there’s a bright future for us. We definitely had the team to go on a long postseason run and it got cut short, but I think everyone in that room has that in the back of their mind. We’ll be a very tough team to beat going forward. We’ll use it as motivation for next year to go on a long run and have that in the back of your mind.
What does the offseason look like for Brady Fleurent between now and October before the next season starts?
I’m working a bunch and I’m working out a bunch. I work out like five times a week and I’m trying to get some golf in there. I have a few weddings and a few bachelor parties this summer so that should be fun. Kind of just low-key. Trying to get the body to relax as well. You don’t want to overdo it. I think that can cause some injuries during the season like it did. Hopefully, just relax a little bit and then get going, skating and working out pretty hard within the next couple of months leading up to October.