Growing up in small town Cambridge, Ontario, Bryan Little dreamed of making it big.
Like many of us wannabe athletes, it began as a hobby. Here in Canada, you’re practically born with a stick in your hand, oblivious to the mind-numbingly cold temperatures that otherwise help produce impeccable conditions on the unassuming outdoor rinks.
Little enjoyed making tracks on the frozen ponds, but his journey truly began in the family home. With his little brother, Shawn, he scored the Stanley Cup-winning goal in double OT, over and over, in the garage just outside.
“I remember watching Hockey Night in Canada every week,” Little said. “We would go out to the garage between periods and play a quick game. If I had a second to spare, I was either playing it or thinking about it. It’s not all that different from what most kids do growing up. It’s a way of life.”
Especially in Cambridge – the “hockey hub,” as Little reminds.
The town of 125,000 is still home for the 27-year-old, Edmonton-born Little, as he lives there in the summer with his wife, Brittany.
“I enjoy going back there. It’s a pretty quiet city, which is perfect for us,” Little said. “It’s one of those close-knit Canadian communities you hear so much about – the kind where guys become friends on the ice, but remain
close off of it.”
Little played much of his minor hockey with the Cambridge Hawks of the Alliance Pavilion League, eventually moving up to the Winter Hawks Junior B program at the age of 14 before being drafted by the Barrie Colts
of the Ontario Hockey League.
“In a small town like Cambridge, you’re going to cross paths with talented players with bright futures,” Little said. “I remember playing against guys like (Andrew) Cogliano and Nathan Gerbe. Nathan, especially, was one of the most talented guys I ever played against growing up. You know the old saying, ‘We kind of lost touch after high school?’ That doesn’t really exist in hockey. We grow up together and always have a connection, somehow. Having the opportunity to stay in touch and play against them in the greatest league in the world is pretty cool.
“I definitely keep tabs on the guys I played in the OHL with, too. It’s an incredible league producing elite talent. In my draft year alone, I was playing against guys like Bobby Ryan, Dave Bolland, Ryan Callahan… Guys that we see on a daily basis in the NHL.”
Little was Barrie’s leading scorer in three of his four years there, recording a career 153 goals and 342 points in just 247 regular-season games. He was a natural-born leader, setting the pace both on and off for the ice. As a result, he was named captain for the 2005-06 season – the same year he set a career high with 109 points, 32 better than the next best Colt, Hunter Tremblay. To this day, Little continues to hold the team record for career
goals, assists and points.
In his final year there, he was joined by future teammate Michael Hutchinson, who had an outstanding rookie campaign, albeit in
Everything was pointing up, and it was leading up to the moment he’d long been dreaming of. On June 24, 2006, at what was then General Motors Place in Vancouver, Little was drafted 12th overall by the Atlanta Thrashers.
Before long, he was back home, north of the 49th.
“It’s a privilege to play anywhere in the NHL, but sometimes things have a funny way of working out,” Little said. “I remember when I was in Atlanta, I always dreamed of playing in a Canadian city and having that excitement surrounding you daily. Canadians live and breathe this game. It brings people together. So when the team moved here, I was thrilled. Atlanta was a fantastic city and the organization and fans treated me incredibly well, but considering everything that lined up for me personally as a result of the move, it couldn’t have worked out any better. Five years later, the building (MTS Centre) is just as loud as it was on opening night, 2011. To experience that right in your own back yard, it’s amazing.”
Criminally underrated around the National Hockey League, Little has consistently been one of the team’s top possession players over the past few years, making him one of the top two-way pivots in the game. A gifted goal scorer, he has more than 150 goals and 350 career points, and can be deployed in just about any situation.
His value runs deep, but he’s far from satisfied. This is a player driven to perform.
Driven to succeed.
Driven to make the Jets a better team, each and every day.
“When you’re my age you’re not going to improve your skating or your shot that much more, but you can continually work on things in practice and in games that are more detail-oriented, but are essential skills for pros,” he said. “For me, faceoffs are huge; defensive awareness, all those little things. Yeah, you want to work on your skills, but your skills aren’t going to change drastically at this age. What does change is the system you play, the rules, the type of game the league is striving toward – nowadays, it’s often about speed and skill, and having a bit more freedom out on the ice. How can
you adapt your game to fit that?”
Some do, some don’t.
He learned to become a defensive ace, in addition to the fiery weapon he remains offensively. He’s willing to engage physically, thrusting his 6-foot-0, 191-pound frame into oncoming traffic, playing the ‘heavy’ game lauded by many.
All of it plays a part in the forward’s ongoing success story.
“Twenty or 30 years ago, I might not have been in the league, considering all the rule changes and how the game has evolved as a whole,” Little said. “Smaller, skilled players are playing more prominent roles these days, and if you can tailor your game to thrive under those conditions – or any
condition for that matter – you’re going to have success.
“It’s definitely benefitted me. I feel like I’ve come a long way.”
All the way from small town Cambridge, where the dream began years ago.
– Ryan Dittrick, WinnipegJets.com