Advertisement
  1. Sports
  2. /
  3. Lightning

Made in Moose Jaw: Brayden Point’s junior hockey roots hinted at his star status

The Lightning standout of these Stanley Cup playoffs has quite the following in Saskatchewan, where even as a junior hockey player, folks knew he’d be a big deal one day.
Brayden Point has had plenty to celebrate during these playoffs, including this goal against the New York Islanders on Monday night in Edmonton.
Brayden Point has had plenty to celebrate during these playoffs, including this goal against the New York Islanders on Monday night in Edmonton. [ MARKO DITKUN | Special to the Times ]
Published Sep. 9, 2020

An insatiable appetite for competition. A fierce, bordering-on-blinkered focus on the task at hand. The ability to park any ego at the loading-dock pass gate. A skill-set the envy of most.

All aligned to a London West End flair for the dramatic.

Which leads to the question: Does Tampa Bay Lightning center Brayden Point actually have a weakness?

Well, yes. One.

“For hot sauce,” laughs Todd Hudson, owner of JGL Cattle in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. "He loves that stuff. Smears it on everything.

"I’m in the cattle business. I buy and sell cattle from here to Ontario, to Kansas, Nebraska. So we eat a lot of steak. Okay, I’m going to brag about my steaks. I cook good steaks.

"Brayden came here as a 15-year-old in March (of 2014) for the playoffs, all 5-foot-3 and 130 pounds of him soaking wet, and after that we ate so much steak that he wrote on a jersey for us: It’s the steak.

"But you cook him the best steaks in the world and he puts that — on it? You’re eating prime-cut rib eye and you’re throwing hot sauce on it?

“Get outta my house.”

The Tampa Bay Lightning's Brayden Point (far left), along with his Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, billets (clockwise): Taylor, Todd, Bevin and Karen Hudson, as well as Cooper, the family dog.
The Tampa Bay Lightning's Brayden Point (far left), along with his Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, billets (clockwise): Taylor, Todd, Bevin and Karen Hudson, as well as Cooper, the family dog. [ Courtesy of the Hudson family ]

In point of fact, the Hudsons — Todd, wife Karen and their two children, daughter Taylor and son Bevin — generously invited Point into their home, as billets made him feel a part of the family for the entirety of his four-season stay as part of the Western Hockey League’s Moose Jaw Warriors.

And now at crux time of his fourth NHL season, Point, 24, and his Tampa Bay Lightning find themselves three wins from a berth in the Stanley Cup final. Seven celebrations shy of a kind of immortality.

"Watching him play here those years, it’s really not surprising to see him excel and do what he’s doing today,'' reckons Hudson. "You could see it in him, right? Been that way his whole life. Too small to play midget AAA, too small to be on the select team. ... I don’t know if he’s ever whined about where someone ranked him or slotted him. Never had a big head. Ever.

“Pretty quiet kid. Some people might classify him as a loner but he’s far from that. Just private, about himself.”

Related: Don’t overlook Kevin Shattenkirk’s role on the Lightning blueline

Born and reared in Calgary, prepped for NHL duty in Moose Jaw, Point has been weaned on hockey. His dad runs skills development camps in the oil and gas city.

“You talk to his dad, to Grant, and you see why Brayden’s the way he is,” Hudson says. "His dad spent a lot of time with him. He has a hockey IQ just like Brayden. Brayden didn’t develop that on his own — he inherited it. A very, very smart hockey guy, Grant. Could’ve coached anywhere.

"He spent a lot of time with Brayden, and because he was a smaller guy, told him: ‘Hey, you’ve got to learn different things than the rest of the kids.’ He spent hours teaching him little things, like how to go into the boards with these guys, how to turn, be quicker. It goes on and on and on.

“And his mom, Janet, well, she’s Brayden’s biggest fan in the world, 100 percent. It’s about Brayden. Those two people have done so much for him. He’s a great young man. I mean, we’re just so excited here. I can’t imagine what they’re feeling right now.”

• • •

Perched expectantly in his Moose Jaw family room these nights, Point’s former Warriors' coach, Tim Hunter, has taken it all in: the five-overtime game-winner versus the Columbus Blue Jackets, the series-clinching overtime assist to help slay the Boston Bruins.

“The other night I told my wife — Pointer’s going to make a big play or score here and Tampa’s going to win,” recalls the long-time tough guy, who reached three Stanley Cup finals himself. "Boston was playing well, Tampa started coming on and … there it is, pass to (Victor) Hedman. Boom. They win.

"No (Steven) Stamkos. No (Nikita) Kucherov.

“Brayden Point.”

Brayden Point jumps over the boards during the game against the New York Islanders on Monday night.
Brayden Point jumps over the boards during the game against the New York Islanders on Monday night. [ MARKO DITKUN | Special to the Times ]

Hunter’s first up-close look at Point arrived at the 2014 BMO Top Prospects Game, held at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary. Coaching Team Orr, he had sought out NHL head of central scouting Dan Marr for brief individual critiques on each of the prospects in his charge.

Related: Memo to world: Um, yeah, the Lightning can still find the net

“Last player we talk about,” he reminisces, "is Point. He’s a replacement and Dan’s like: ‘Well, he’s really (ticked) off that he wasn’t picked to begin with. A real good player. Real competitive. Kinda small.’ Blah, blah, blah.

"As the game’s going on, I’m loving this guy more and more. I had some hotshots in that group, for sure, but I couldn’t take my eyes off Pointer, how hard he competed.

"Down the stretch, they’re pushing to tie the game. We had three or four faceoffs to our goalie’s right. I needed a faceoff won. I sent Pointer out to take them. Wins all three.

"They pull the goalie, I put him out again, boom, he wins the faceoff again.

"Why him? I just thought: This is a guy who’ll do it. I knew it. And he did.

“So when I got the job in Moose Jaw, I’m like, ‘Wow! I get to coach this kid again? How lucky am I?’”

• • •

In Hunter’s estimation, what has pushed Point into the elite category is an improvement in his skating; from “a good skater into a great skater.” And for that, he credits former world pairs figure skating champion, and now coach, Barb Underhill.

Underhill began working with Point during his first development camp after being drafted by the Lightning.

"What I noticed right away was that he wasn’t balanced on the right part of his blade,'' she explains from her Toronto base. "So his weight was in the back, in his heels. You can’t be dynamic, can’t be quick, can’t be light on your feet, sitting on your heels.

"So I went about figuring out how to get him more on the front of his blades. That requires a lot of work, a lot of people pitching in — particularly him. He had to work tremendous on getting more flexion so he could get his knees out over his toes, then more over the front of his blades.

“Picture running down the track on your heels and how that feels. … Once you get him to a good part of the blade, everything started to feel easy. When it feels easy, anything is possible.”

Tampa Bay Lightning center Brayden Point (21) celebrates after scoring the winning goal during overtime against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Tampa Bay Lightning center Brayden Point (21) celebrates after scoring the winning goal during overtime against the Columbus Blue Jackets. [ COLE BURSTON | The Canadian Press via AP ]

The results of the collaboration have succeeded in adding the final, vital brushstrokes to a canvas.

“He has the ability,” Underhill continues, "to figure things out. He’s one of those rare athletes that you show him something one day and you actually see it the next day in the game. Most athletes need thousands of reps.

"I can’t believe how much he was able to improve, on his own. Extremely driven. Extremely motivated.

“Getting him comfortable was a huge piece because then he began to think he could do anything.”

Related: Defenseman Erik Cernak ’has been phenomenal’ for Lightning

• • •

The cheering sections in southern Alberta and Saskatchewan are only going to become louder now that the Lightning have shifted to playing in Edmonton, a three-hour drive north of Point’s hometown.

“As a kid with us, he slept most of his days away,” says an amused Hudson. "Let’s put it this way: The P in Point, in this case, does not stand for punctual. Always the last one on the bus, the last one out of the dressing room, last one to the rink.

"That’s Brayden.

"My mom and dad went to see him play down in Vegas. They knew where to meet him. Stamkos comes off the bus. Hedman. All these guys. So my mom says: ‘Where’s Brayden?’ And Coach tells her: ‘Oh, he’ll be the last one off the bus. Don’t worry.’

“Nothing’s changed that way.”

Brayden Point with billets Karen and Todd Hudson in their Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, back yard.
Brayden Point with billets Karen and Todd Hudson in their Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, back yard. [ Courtesy of the Hudson family ]

The level is different. The stakes amped. The scrutiny increased.

But Brayden Point hasn’t changed, either. Still shining all the time.

Over three decades ago, Hunter felt the thrill of lifting Lord Stanley’s big, jug-eared silver chalice aloft. As part of the only visiting team, the 1989 Calgary Flames, to do so on consecrated ground, the venerable Montreal Forum.

So he fully understands the relentlessness example required to be set by the men who matter most at fish-or-cut-bait time.

Hunter recalls one particular night in Edmonton when Point’s junior Warriors were playing poorly.

“Pointer’s on his game, as usual. But his two linemates sucked. And so did our defense.”

To shake things up, Hunter decided to bench Point’s line and rotated four forwards along the blueline for a number of shifts and relay a none-too-subtle message.

Point, meanwhile, was sitting and stewing.

“Finally,” recalls Hunter gleefully, "he smashes his stick and says: ‘That’s enough! We’ll get going! Put me back on the ice!’ I did.

"He got his two linemates going by sheer force of will. We ended up winning the game, handily. He just took it over. ...

“That’s Brayden Point: ‘I’ll show you.’”