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Stapley: Starting strong in the Mile High City

Freshman Brett Stapley is enjoying life at the University of Denver as a productive member of the Pioneers

by Matthew Cudzinowski @CanadiensMTL /

MONTREAL - While Brett Stapley is a self-described "late bloomer" hockey-wise, that certainly hasn't been the case in his freshman campaign at the University of Denver.

All the 19-year-old centerman has done early on this year with the seventh-ranked Pioneers is impress and open plenty of eyes to his capabilities.

Through 12 games, Stapley boasts three goals and 12 points, ranking fourth on the roster in scoring and second among the nine total freshmen up front and on the back end.

"I've just been trying to get better at one thing each day, whether it's in the weight room or on the ice," said Stapley, on one of several keys to his early-season success as a member of the eight-time national champions. "The older guys on the team have also made it so easy for us young guys to come in and become acclimated to the way the Denver Pioneers like to play. They know we're going to make mistakes and we have a really young team. They're letting us grow as a group, and it's starting to pay off."

Tweet from @TheNCHC: 🚨 That's just mean!Brett Stapley with an #NCHCTopPlay nominee to regain the lead for @DU_Hockey Watch on | #NCHCHockey | #PioneerTogether

That's especially true for Stapley, who also credits the Pioneers' coaching staff - led by new bench boss David Carle - for giving him the opportunity to become accustomed to the college game weekend after weekend. 

"That helped an enormous amount. I think the coaching staff's mindset was they didn't want to stunt the development of our game," explained Stapley, who hasn't spent any time watching from the sidelines. "By trusting us and putting us on the power play, and letting us play big minutes, it was the best way for us to become comfortable at the NCAA level."

Looking back on a special moment

Stapley was actually in Denver when the Canadiens made him their seventh-round pick, 190th overall at the 2018 NHL Draft in June.

He'd already begun taking summer classes and working out on campus with strength and conditioning coach Matt Shaw.

Stapley recalls being speechless when he heard the incredible news.

"What I remember is I was sitting in my room and my phone just blew up. My teammate Slava Demin came in congratulated me. I was just absolutely stunned. I didn't know what was going on or what to think," said Stapley, who also received a congratulatory phone call from general manager Marc Bergevin and assistant general manager Trevor Timmins. "It definitely took a while to sink in, but I was super honored."

Tweet from @BrettStapley: Dream come true to be apart of the @CanadiensMTL organization. Thank you to everyone who has helped me get to this point! #Habs @DU_Hockey @VernonVipers

Joining the fold brought back some fun Habs-related memories for Stapley.

"I used to watch the Maurice Richard movie as a kid with my dad in the living room, and I always thought that movie was so cool, just how many goals he scored," mentioned the Campbell River, BC native. "I also looked up to Brendan Gallagher growing up. I'd go to the odd Vancouver Giants game and see him lighting it up there. I'd go with Jordan Bellerive because his brother Matt played on the team. It was fun to watch him. His compete level is off the charts."

Keep in mind that Stapley was no stranger to the Canadiens' brass when they secured his services five months ago.

The BCHL grad took part in two pre-Draft combines at the Bell Sports Complex in Brossard, before being selected in his second year of eligibility.

And, ultimately being picked late didn't faze him one bit.

"It was the same in the WHL Bantam Draft. I've always thought of it as a marathon, not a sprint. That's a quote my spring hockey coach always used to use," confided Stapley. "I was never really worried. I think I can also use as a bit of extra motivation to push myself even harder."

Adapting to a new role

While Stapley is thriving up the middle with the Pioneers, he is still relatively new to the center position.

It wasn't so long ago that he was still playing right-wing with the Vernon Vipers.

"I converted after my 16-year-old season in Vernon, when I was going into my sophomore year there. My coach Mark Ferner brought in [former NHLer] Jerred Smithson. He was our associate head coach, and he really helped my game in the faceoff dot," said Stapley, who has won 54 percent of his faceoffs on the year. "Now, I'm surrounded by guys like [former NHLer] Steven Reinprecht in Denver. He was a great centerman, too. Guys like that have so much knowledge… I hate losing draws. I think when I'm playing and I'm winning draws, I get a lot more confidence. It's a big part of my game."

So, what kind of pivot does Stapley see himself as?

"I'd like to be a 200-foot centerman that can be relied upon heavily in the defensive zone as well as in the offensive zone," said Stapley, who was named the NCHC's Rookie of the Week on November 12. "I'm a pass-first forward. I'd say I have a good hockey IQ, good vision on the ice and have the ability to recognize when I have time and space to feed my teammates so they can skate into a pass."

The Canadiens prospect clearly enjoys being a playmaker. His nine assists, which have him tied for the team lead in that department, are a good indicator of that.

"It's something I love the most about the game. I've always been a passer, I guess. My teammates lately have been joking around that I only pass," cracked Stapley. "I definitely love to dish the puck. It's a position I've grown into over the years."

Tweet from @DU_Hockey: Making power moves #PioneerTogether

School matters 

When it came time for Stapley to commit to a collegiate program, Denver was his top choice for reasons beyond just hockey. Academics played a big part in the decision, too.

He is currently enrolled in the school's Daniels College of Business, and is planning on possibly majoring in real estate.

"Both my parents are mortgage brokers, and my dad is also a real estate agent," explained Stapley. "I've been learning from them as I've grown up."

In addition to his core business classes, the young forward is also taking a French course to fulfill his foreign language requirement.

That is some good forward thinking, as was his decision to go the college route.

"Growing up in minor hockey, I was always a bit of a late bloomer. I needed an extra year to grow and develop, so going to Denver was the best option for me because you get four years if you want it," concluded Stapley. "I just want to continue to progress and get better here on and off the ice, and continue to do my best in my studies as well."

Tweet from @DU_Hockey: ������������������������ #PioneerTogether

Photo Credit: University of Denver

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