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Backchecking: Brian Bradley

Brian Bradley had 503 points in 651 career NHL games. (Getty Images)

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Brian Bradley had 503 points in 651 career NHL games. (Getty Images)

By Tim Kolupanowich

A native of Kitchener, Ont., Brian Bradley was a slick, playmaking center who played 651 games in the NHL, scoring 182 goals and registering 321 assists for 503 points for Calgary, Vancouver, Toronto and Tampa Bay. He represented Canada during several international tournaments, winning gold in the 1985 World Junior Championship and suiting up for the Olympics in 1988.

Despite reaching the 100-point milestone twice with the London Knights, his 5-foot-10, 180-pound frame prevented him from being drafted until the Flames selected him 51st overall in 1983.

Two call-ups (one during the Stanley Cup final) gave him his first taste of the NHL.

“That year was great, a really good experience,” Bradley said. “Playing in the final allowed me to get my feet wet and get a feel for the league.”

Unfortunately for Bradley, the Flames were deep at center and ice time was scarce.

“In Calgary, I never had the opportunity to play,” he said. “I was getting only a handful of shifts per game.”

During the 1988 season Bradley joined the Canadian national team where he played on the top line, rather than the third and fourth lines like he did in Calgary. That year, he represented Canada at the Olympics, where they finished fourth.

“Coach Dave King gave me the opportunity to play on the top line,” Bradley said. “That move was really good for my career.”

After the Olympics, Bradley was traded to Vancouver and joined the Canucks for 11 games, scoring three goals and eight points. Bradley credits that jump as a stepping stone that kept his hockey career alive, giving him a fresh start to be a key contributor at the NHL level.

After two-and-a-half seasons with the Canucks, in which he totaled at least 45 points both years, Bradley was traded once again during the 1990-91 season to Toronto, where his ice time and numbers diminished.

“I was only playing a few minutes a night,” he said. “No one is going to put up numbers with that kind of playing time.”

In 1993, Bradley received another chance when the newly created Tampa Bay Lightning claimed him in the expansion draft.

His career took off in Tampa as he was finally given a chance to be a No. 1 center. He scored 42 goals and 86 points in his first year with the Lightning, centering a line with Rob Zamuner and John Tucker.

The Lightning spent their first five seasons split between the tiny Expo Hall and the Florida Suncoast Dome, a building originally designed to house a Major League Baseball team. It wasn’t until Year 5 Tampa Bay finally moved into a new building: the state-of-the-art Ice Palace, as it was known at the time.

As an original member of the Lightning, Bradley was called to take the opening faceoff in the new rink against Mark Messier. The night was made more memorable when Bradley scored the first goal in the new building’s history, leading the Lightning to a 5-2 win over the Rangers.

In six seasons with the Lightning, Bradley led the team in scoring four times and helped them to their first playoff appearance in 1996. He played 328 games on the west coast of Florida, totaling 111 goals and 300 points before concussions prematurely ended his career at age 33. He is sixth on the franchise list for goals and fifth in assists and points.

Bradley currently lives in Tampa Bay where he serves as the Director of Youth and Community Relations for the Lightning. He works with many local youth and high school hockey teams and organizes public events. Included in those events is a Lightning fantasy camp where amateur players learn about the game and life as a pro from the guidance of Lightning coaches and alumni.

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