Energetic Bradshaw ‘back with a vengeance’

For Travis Bradshaw, it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. His boyhood idol Steve Yzerman, newly installed as the general manager of the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning, was in town during September 2010 as the Bolts held their pre-season training camp at SAIT Arena.

But a photo op during the Lightning’s stay at the home of the SAIT Trojans men’s hockey team told the story of Bradshaw’s season. While a smiling Yzerman posed with beaming members of SAIT Polytechnic athletics staff and Trojans teammate Shane Lust, Bradshaw stared off into the distance, his jaw set in a grim expression.

With good reason, as it turns out. Bradshaw’s jaw wasn’t just set. It was wired shut, after being broken in a pre-season exhibition game against the Mount Royal University Cougars — and the ensuing 2010-11 Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference (ACAC) campaign turned out to be the proverbial lost year for the Calgarian. But right now, the feisty, energetic forward is making up for lost time.

“His heart was there. But psychologically, that’s a major injury. For anybody. And to come in halfway into the year, when the intensity is really high across the league . . . that’s like jumping into the fire,” says Ken Babey, now in his 25th season as the Trojans’ head coach. “Travis had to get some confidence back. He’s come back with a vengeance. He’s one of those guys I believe truly carries within him the Trojan spirit.”

The Men of Troy (6-0-0), who hold a one-point lead atop ACAC standings, hit the ice this weekend for a two-game series with the NAIT Ooks (3-2-1). They’ll get things underway Friday, Oct. 28 at SAIT Arena, starting at 7 p.m., and continue up in Edmonton, on NAIT Arena ice, on Saturday, Oct. 29.

To date, Bradshaw (3rd year, Calgary, business administration, AJHL Calgary Royals) is best known for scoring the ACAC’s title-winning goal for SAIT in the spring of 2010, during the deciding Game 5 of the best-of-five provincial championship final. Last winter, he suited up for 16 regular-season games, but between that broken jaw and a shoulder injury that he played through in the post-season, the five-foot-10 sparkplug was not quite himself.

Last weekend, as the Trojans hosted the Portage College Voyageurs in a two-game set, Bradshaw was rewarded for his conspicuous relentlessness with his first three goals of the 2011-12 campaign — one more than he totaled all of last season, including playoffs.

“It was hard mentally last year. I just wasn’t the same player, I thought. But I had a really good summer of working out, and I just feel great this year,” Bradshaw says. “I wanted to get back to how I felt I could play, and I really feel like I’m doing that this year.”

Most recently, Bradshaw has been playing on a line with Brad Drobot (2nd year, Calgary, business administration, AJHL Calgary Royals) and Sam Mitchell (1st year, Osoyoos, B.C., academic upgrading, BCHL Alberni Valley). The so-called third line has rung up a total of 13 points in six games.

“Travis brings a lot of speed and energy. He’s always been a good defensive player, but now I think he’s really starting to gain confidence on the offensive side of the puck . . . and he’s really helping the team,” says Babey.

“We don’t want to rely on one line all the time. That’s one thing we noticed last year — we didn’t have enough secondary scoring,” adds Babey. “We want to develop a team, and develop guys who can come in and maybe pot the odd goal for us down the stretch when our top guys are shut down. You do that by giving everybody ice time.”

And here’s an interesting Bradshaw factoid . . . his dad was born and raised in Malta, living in the Mediterranean island nation until his early 20s. Not a place, clearly, with Zambonis or skate sharpeners. “He was a soccer player, so I played that sport when I grew up. It was my grandpa (his mom’s dad) who got me into hockey,” laughs Bradshaw. “But my dad loves it now. Early on, it was hard for him to give advice . . . but he picked it up quick.”