(Photo: NHL)

Every kid that plays hockey dreams one day that he will get to lace them up in an NHL game. It’s a dream that most will never realize. Even fewer still find themselves drafted by the team they grew up idolizing. But that is exactly what has happened to Alex Broadhurst.

Alex Broadhurst was born and raised in Illinois, where he grew up as a Blackhawks fan. When he was 18, and had finished his second season in the USHL playing for the Green Bay Gamblers, the Chicago Blackhawks took a chance on the local kid. They selected him in the 7th round of the 2011 draft and it was an amazing feeling for him. This is definitely a player that Blackhawks fans should keep an eye on.

“It was unbelievable, a dream come true. We grew up Blackhawks fans and grew up our whole lives around Chicago. We stuck by the Blackhawks, even when they had some dark days there,” Broadhurst remembered. “I just didn’t have any idea I was going to get drafted. I played in the USHL and had a pretty decent year. I didn’t really expect much. But they took a chance on me and I’m so grateful for it.”

He was coming off a season where he had scored 26 goals and 47 assists for 73 points in 53 games. That was good enough for the team lead in assists and points. After getting drafted, he had a decision to make. There were two options in front of him: college or a season in the OHL.

“I got drafted and I was contemplating going to college. I had committed to going to University of Nebraska-Omaha, where my brother went. But I had a sit down with my family and we talked it out. I didn’t think that college was the right path for me,” he said. “I just wanted to pursue my career in pro hockey and take a chance. It worked out for the best with playing in London for the Knights. They took me in and taught me a lot. It’s like a big family. I had a great time here and it’s a great city. It was really good for my career.”

It was a different path than his older brother, Terry, had taken but his family was supportive of his decision to follow this path. He ended up with the London Knights, who were coached by Dale Hunter. Hunter had over 1,400 NHL regular season games with over 1,000 points. He turned out to be just the coach that Broadhurst felt he needed. He felt that he learned a lot and it was the right decision for his career.

After just one year in the OHL, Broadhurst made the transition from juniors to the AHL and realized that there was a big learning curve. He went to the Rockford IceHogs, affiliate of the Blackhawks.

“It was huge playing in both those leagues, they’re both top leagues. I think the USHL was a good place for me to start. The guys there are more focused on playing college hockey. Then I felt like the OHL was a little different, a little more focused on going right to the pros,” he said. “You were playing against top talent that you’ll probably see in the NHL some day. The AHL is no comparison to either league, though. When I was there, I thought the OHL was tough but it’s like night and day.”

Bigger, faster, stronger. That’s something a lot of players say when they make the jump into professional leagues. In the juniors, players get used to playing against opponents 16-20 years old. In the AHL, players range anywhere from 20 to mid-30s. They have much more experience and have a better grasp on the game. In Rockford, Broadhurst benefitted from a good core of veterans that helped show him the way. One such example was Jared Nightingale, who served as the team’s captain.

How does Broadhurst think his first season went?

“It was kind of an eye opener from me coming from juniors. I thought I was going to come in and tear it up and score every night, but it’s not like that,” he said. “Pro hockey is a totally different game. It’s stronger, tougher, and faster and it took me awhile to adjust to it. But, I think I adjusted pretty well and next year I’ll have an even better year.”

That was the hardest part for Broadhurst to deal with adjusting to the AHL: the speed and physicality of the game. Although the OHL is a highly competitive league, you have to turn on an extra gear to play in the AHL. “How much time you have with the puck is also a lot different,” he said. “You have to make plays within a split second and you don’t really have time to think through a plan. I think that’s the hardest thing guys have to adjust to.”

But with all that’s hard, there were also some parts about his rookie season that were easier to adjust to. One thing that seems to be common from one hockey team to the next is that it’s like a brotherhood. Bonds form fast and the more experienced players are always willing to help the younger guys.

“I think the easiest part was getting to know everyone and fitting in on the team,” he said. “We had a great group of guys, so nobody ever felt left out or had trouble fitting in during their first year.”

On top of the veteran leadership that Rockford had this past season, the IceHogs also had Alex Broadhurst’s older brother, Terry. With Terry being four and a half years older than Alex, the two did not have many chances to play on the same team before this season. It really helped both of them to play together.

Photo: Alex Broadhurst

Photo: Alex Broadhurst

“My brother was on the team so that was kind of huge for me. It was nice to have them there to help with problems or answer questions,” he said. “But the guys were really all great. Sometimes you’re sitting in the locker room and you don’t really know what’s going on or what you’re doing. We had a good group of veterans on the team so you can look to them.”

Not only did Alex Broadhurst get to play his first professional season with his older brother, but they did so close to home. The Broadhurst family grew up as Blackhawks fans. Chicago’s AHL affiliate is located in Rockford, Illinois and that meant it was still close to home. That can be a huge help in your first year pro. Most players are used to having to move around the US and Canada to follow their dreams, but not a lot get the chance to play close to home.

“It was incredible. For our family, they loved it. We were close, only about an hour and a half from where we grew up. My parents loved getting to see us both play on the same team. It was a lot of fun,” he said. “You know, sometimes you get sick of your brother or you fight but it was good to have him there. We force each other to be better. I want to be better than him and he wants to be better than me. It works out better for both our careers.”

For most players, family means everything. They’re the ones who have stood by through all the years and they are the ones who have rearranged schedules to make it to practices and games. So, it meant a lot to Broadhurst that his family was not only close by but also that they were able to support him and his brother throughout the season.

“Our parents were at pretty much every home game and we had a lot of friends come up. It was kind of the best part about it. You could still see your friends and family. It was especially good for me being in my first year as a pro to have that support,” he said.

Broadhurst finished his first season with 45 points in 75 games in Rockford. That was one point more than his older brother. That was a fact that he was aware of and joked about. It was a good-natured competition between brothers that only made the two of them better.

Unfortunately, Rockford finished 9th in the conference again where the top 8 teams make the playoffs. Although they would have liked to see postseason action, the team has a lot to be proud of from 2013-2014.

Since the IceHogs are in the offseason, Broadhurst has acknowledged that he needs to keep working to improve his game. When you stop working, that’s when you fall behind. The players that succeed are the ones that never give up.

“You can’t really stop working on anything. You have to work on everything, like your shooting and skating. You can always get better. For me, my off ice workouts are going to be important this summer,” he said. “I’m going to be working out at the United Center with the Blackhawks trainer. I’m just looking to get bigger and stronger and work on everything. It’ll be good to be in Chicago and whatever they want to see from me, I’ll be doing that.”

Broadhurst will keep working towards his dream, the same dream that every player has: to play in the NHL. For him it means a little bit more because dressing for an NHL game would mean dressing for a team he’s followed his whole life. It’s hard for him to imagine.

“To be honest, I don’t really know how it would feel. I would be speechless. I would be so nervous getting out on the ice and excited at the same time,” he said. “Obviously, that’s the goal and if I ever get that chance I’ll have to let see how it feels then. I can’t imagine.”

Broadhurst still has two years left on his Entry Level Contract with the Chicago Blackhawks. He will likely be back in Rockford again next season and looks to keep building on his success. Through juniors, he established himself as a scorer and he wants to establish himself that way now in the AHL.

Hard work does not seem to be something that he is afraid of and it seems clear that he is willing to work as hard as he needs to in order to make his dream of playing in the NHL happen. This is definitely a player that could do big things going forward.

 

A New England girl, born and raised, Jessica Higham has grown up loving few things more than hockey. Although she has never considered herself to be a good skater, she fell in love with hockey back when boys still had cooties and that love has only grown since. She genuinely wishes she had been alive to enjoy ‘Miracle on Ice’ and considers it to be one of the greatest moments in US history. Nothing compares to the feeling of September coming and signaling the start of a new season, complete with a whole new set of ups and downs. After having been an avid reader and occasional writer, Jessica wanted to try putting the two loves together and writing about hockey. Aside from hockey, Jessica also loves music, going to concerts, animals, and walking on the beach. Email: jessica@thepinkpuck.com @JessicaHigham

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