For hockey players lucky enough to make it to the NHL, there are a few firsts that they will never forget: their first NHL game, first goal or first playoff game to name a few. For most North Americans, there is also the first time they head back home to play an NHL game. For Islanders defenseman Brian Strait, Friday night’s game at the TD Garden marks his first NHL game playing against the team he grew up cheering for, the Boston Bruins.
Strait grew up in Waltham, MA, about 25 minutes west of downtown Boston. When it came time to decide where to play college hockey, the 6’1, 200-pound defenseman didn’t wander too far away from home. Strait played three years for Boston University, culminating in a national championship during his junior season in 2009.
“I was a BU fan always,” Strait said. “When I was a kid those were the games my dad took me to. Ever since I was little that’s where I wanted to go and it was obviously really exciting for me when they wanted me to go there.”
Prior to his freshman season, Strait played for the U.S. National Team Developmental Program. Following his final season there in 2006, the Penguins selected Strait in the third round (65th overall) in the NHL Draft.
Although Friday may be Strait’s first time playing against the Bruins, it isn’t his first time playing at TD Garden. BU plays each season at TD Garden in the Beanpot Tournament against Boston College, Northeastern and Harvard. Strait and the Terriers also played on the TD Garden ice during the Hockey East Tournament. While Strait was an assistant captain with the team in 08-09, BU won both the Beanpot and Hockey East Championships.
Strait names the Beanpot Championship as one of his greatest hockey memories.
“When you’re born in Boston, hockey comes hand-in-hand with the Beanpot. It’s always a dream of every kid who grows up here.”
When Strait discusses some of his favorite memories attending games at the old Boston “Gahden,” it’s easy to hear where his roots are.
“I was a diehard Bruins fan when I was a kid,” Strait said. “You kind of get the chills when you think about it. It’s real exciting for me and I just can’t wait to get out there.”
As a defenseman, it was easy for Strait to decide on his favorite player growing up.
“Every kid around here loves Ray Bourque and loves watching him play,” Strait said. “I can’t tell you how many times I pretended to be him playing street hockey. He was inspiring for a lot of Boston kids growing up, defensemen especially.”
Bourque played for the Bruins from 1979 until 2000 when he was traded to the Colorado Avalanche. Bourque tallied 1,579 points in 1,612 NHL games. His son Chris, whom also played at Boston University like Strait, is now a member of the Bruins.
Although Strait is as excited as can be to play in front of over a dozen family members and friends, he understands that this is just another hockey game and that he has to make sure to perform well to help the Islanders get the win.
“Over the past four years I’ve found ways to calm myself down,” Strait said. “I think after the first five minutes I’ll be able to settle down and just play hockey. Obviously when I first get out there it’s going to be exciting. I’m going to be pretty anxious and ready to go. The adrenaline will be going.”
Although Strait still has a few “firsts” to check off, Friday’s game against the Bruins is one he will never forget. He can also hope it’s the first time he leaves TD Garden happy with a Bruins loss.