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By Alan Fuehring / Bridgeport Sound Tigers
The world has been turned on its side for nearly everyone these days, spinning future hopes and plans into a complete guessing game for many. Count young hockey players in that mix.
For 24-year-old defenseman Adam Brubacher, the COVID-19 outbreak cost him a very real shot at winning a national championship in 2020 and the ability to cherish his final few weeks of college hockey at the Rochester Institute of Technology (R.I.T.).
Instead, it was an abrupt end to his college career with nothing to show for a successful senior season in which he collected 28 points (four goals, 24 assists) and a career-high plus-12 rating, followed by total uncertainty as to how he would solidify a job in the professional ranks.
“It was definitely a crazy, whirlwind of an experience,” Brubacher said. “We’re gearing up to play our first round of the playoffs, but there was a lot of stuff dealing with the virus going on outside of our locker room. Talks and uncertainty about what’s going to happen. Maybe we’re not going to play, maybe we’re going to play without fans, we didn’t really know. Then got the news that it was all cancelled.”
“That’s when reality set in – that’s it. I’ve played my last collegiate game and I didn’t even know it. It was definitely my best feeling out of my four years there that we had the team that could make it far into the playoffs and perhaps win it. I thought we definitely had a good chance.”
R.I.T. finished in third place during the Atlantic Hockey regular season behind only American International and Sacred Heart University. They went 15-9-4 in conference play and 10-4-3 at home, but those statistics meant nothing once the pandemic wiped everyone’s slate clean. A story he’ll likely still feel frustrated by when he tells his children and grandchildren down the road.
“We had a bye the first round of playoffs,” Brubacher detailed. “The first round actually played their games and then those winners were moving on. We were waiting on Air Force at home. They flew in on Wednesday, and then we got the news that games were going to be played with no fans on Thursday. But Thursday around midday, they said the conference was shutting down. About an hour later, all of the NCAA playoffs were off.”
“It was really sad from there, I didn’t even know what to do with myself,” Brubacher continued. “Then you realize, ok maybe I have a chance to go play pro somewhere this year still. But then you get word that all of the pro leagues are getting postponed and then cancelled. It was crushing, especially because that’s what guys look forward to after their senior seasons.”
The young defenseman, who had participated in New York Islanders Development Camp each of the last two summers, remained optimistic and posted up at his home in Elmira, Ontario, waiting for some positive news.
“I’ve always felt that I was overlooked a little bit,” Brubacher said. “I didn’t get too many college looks at first - a couple of schools were interested in me, but no official offers. When I was presented an opportunity at R.I.T. after moving to British Columbia and playing two years in the BCHL, I jumped at it. It was one of the best decisions I ever made.”
Brubacher had 106 points (26 goals, 80 assists) and a plus-16 rating in 148 career games from the R.I.T. blueline over four years. The two-time Atlantic Hockey All-Star finished his career as one of only 35 players and only six defensemen in the nation with at least 100 career points, while his 80 assists were the 12th-highest total over the last four seasons.
That includes a career-best 31 points in 38 games during his junior campaign and 23 points in 37 games as a freshman, when he earned Atlantic Hockey Rookie of the Year honors in 2016-17. Brubacher was named to Atlantic Hockey’s Third All-Conference Team in 2018-19 and the Second All-Conference Team this past year.
His success with the R.I.T. Tigers put him on the radar of another “Tigers” organization. Specifically, Bridgeport Sound Tigers General Manager Chris Lamoriello, who signed the rookie to an American Hockey League contract on April 30.
“It’s one of those things I really worked hard towards,” Brubacher said. “The past couple of years, I’ve been to the Islanders Development Camp and they’ve obviously shown an interest in me. That’s something I’ve always wanted to do – go to a team that had the most interest in me and showed the most promise.”
Brubacher comes from a hockey family and describes his father, Eric, as his childhood hero. His dad, who played center, was drafted by the New York Rangers (218th overall) in 1974 and played a few years in the NHL before a brief stint in Europe and a return to North America. He’s now a sports chiropractor and an on-going mentor for Adam and his older brother, Andrew, who is also a defenseman.
“One of my earliest memories is every Saturday morning, our family would go to Elmira Arena - a small, 400-seat rink - and we would have a 7am ice time,” Brubacher pointed out. “The rink attendant got there when we did around 6:15am and we would be the first ones on to practice our shots, that type of thing, before anyone else got there.”
He has certainly honed his shot into an ideal weapon that is one of his biggest attributes along with his sturdy, 6-foot-3 frame that can dominate the corners. Specifically, his slapshot is something that he worked on quite a bit all the way through his college career, where he broke nearly 50 sticks during his freshman season alone.
“The team equipment guy wasn’t too happy with me,” Brubacher joked. “I think the budget they had was about 20 sticks per guy. I always laugh about that looking back.”
Brubacher made the best of a stirring situation this past spring, but is maintaining that same drive and positivity this summer, as he prepares for his first professional season with the Sound Tigers.
“It was a mix of both excitement and relief to get that deal taken care of with Bridgeport.” Brubacher said. “The situation with coronavirus made everything so uncertain. You’re obviously thinking after senior season ends –– especially on a good note –– you have the chance to go play professionally for higher-tier leagues. That wasn’t the case this year and it got me down on myself. You have to wait until next year, so I felt a great deal of relief to get a deal done so early in the summer.”
“That weight’s off my shoulders. Now, I can just focus on training and getting better.”