By: Hamilton Bulldogs
03/29/2013 1:53 PM -
HAMILTON, Ont. – Brady Vail figured his season was over on March 17 when the Windsor Spitfires’ campaign ended after they failed to qualify for the Ontario Hockey League playoffs.
But instead of beginning to prepare for next season Vail, 19, reported the next day to the Hamilton Bulldogs where he signed an amateur tryout contract with the American Hockey League club.
“It’s been an unbelievable experience,” Vail said after a recent Bulldogs practice. “I really had no idea that I would be coming here and as soon as the season ended I got the invitation. I hadn’t planned on coming here and it was a real surprise. But I have tried to make the most of it and get as much I can out of it.”
Vail was a fourth-round choice of the Montreal Canadiens, the Bulldogs’ National Hockey League parent club, in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft.
“I am here to get a taste of what it’s like at the next level and what it takes to be a pro,” said the resident of Palm City, Fla., located in the eastern part of the state. “I am watching how the older guys do things, how they take care of themselves and how they practice.
“There are a lot of older guys here and guys who played in the NHL and I find out more every day. I grew up watching some of the guys I am playing against and it is making me push myself and work harder so I can compete with them.”
Vail said he can find common ground with many of his teammates despite being the youngest player on the roster.
“The younger guys here aren’t that far from their junior days so the same things I do, like go to the movies or play video games. But it’s a totally different atmosphere, it’s a lot more mature.”
Vail made his professional debut last Friday night in a 1-0 road win over the Syracuse Crunch and he played the following night when the Bulldogs lost 4-2 to the host Binghamton Senators. Vail picked up his first AHL point on Wednesday night when he assisted on defenceman Frederic St-Denis’s first-period goal in a 5-3 win over the visiting Abbotsford Heat.
“I was a little nervous in the first game, but felt more relaxed in the second game,” said Vail. “I felt I was playing my game as a two-way centre, I was getting pucks deep and playing good defensively. The game is a lot faster here and guys are on you quicker, but I think I will get more comfortable with that over time.”
Vail finished his third season with the Spitfires with 20 goals and 35 assists for 55 points in 68 games. The Spitfires were aggressive at the OHL’s trade deadline, but injuries derailed their playoff hopes, leaving the team with a depleted lineup on many nights.
“We made some big trades but we only had a full team for three games and we won all of them,” said Vail. “We know what the team would have been capable of but we had loads of injuries. At one point I played 12 games as a defenceman and we only had three lines for almost three months and that’s tough on everybody.”
As a youth, Vail played inline hockey in Florida.
“A lot of kids play that down there. It’s tough because there aren’t a lot of rinks, but there have been some good players coming out of there recently. The NHL is getting bigger down there every year. There are two teams there and it’s not like people don’t know what it is. More guys are getting into it.”
Vail was chosen by the Spitfires in the fourth round of the 2010 OHL Priority Selection from the Waterloo Black Hawks of the United States Hockey League. Before that he had moved with his mother and sister to Detroit where he won two national championships playing in the Compuware program.
“We moved so I could play and my dad stayed in Florida. After Compuware I went to the USHL as a 15-year-old and was chosen by Windsor and I figured that was the best option for me.
“I know my family had no idea where this would take me. It has been a pretty crazy ride and my family has been behind me 100 percent. They came up to watch me play in Syracuse and Binghamton and then came to Hamilton to make sure I got settled in. They are a big reason I am here today.”
The Bulldogs have two more games this week. They host the Heat at 7:30 Friday and entertain the Rochester Americans at 7 p.m. Saturday.