In only their second year of existence in the NHL, the Lightning had again finished in the cellar, 42 points behind the New York Rangers in the Atlantic Division.
Lightning forward Brian Bradley had finished his second of what eventually would be six seasons with the club. For the second consecutive time he had led the team in points with 64 and assists with 40. His 24 goals were one behind the team leader. For the second season in a row he had been chosen to represent the new franchise in the NHL All-Star Game.
And just over a month after the end of the season, Bradley’s son, Cody, was born.
Fast forward 18 years and Brian Bradley is planted on the upper level of the Lightning training facility in Brandon, Florida. Below him, about to take the ice, is Cody, now just turned 18 and participating in the Lightning Development Camp, alongside highly-rated prospects like J.T. Brown, who had led the University of Minnesota Duluth to the Frozen Four championship in 2011, where he was named the Outstanding Player of the tournament, and Slater Koekkoek, the 2012 first-round draft choice of the Lightning.
Any dad could be expected to be a bit tense watching his son with that level of competition, but Bradley is totally calm.
One Of The Guys: Cody Bradley skates to center ice with fellow camp participants following a shooting drill.
“I’m not nervous, not really,” the elder Bradley said. “I’m looking forward to seeing how he does.”
It’s been a steady, measured progression for Cody, beginning when he dominated the local leagues in Brandon, starting at age 5. Within a few years he was commuting to Miami for practice and games with the South Florida Golden Waves, a tournament team his dad formed with some of the top players in the state. Brady Vale, selected by the Montreal Canadiens in the fourth round of the 2012 draft played on that team, along with Cody Paine, a fifth round selection this year by the Boston Bruins.
“Out of those kids that I coached in Florida when they were eight or nine or ten, there are several now that have been drafted,” Bradley said.
For Cody, continued progression in hockey meant leaving home at an early age, and as a 15-year-old he moved north and played the 2009-10 season with the Toronto Jr. Canadiens of the Greater Toronto Hockey League.
After a good season in Toronto Cody was drafted to play junior hockey by Brampton in the Ontario Hockey League. Instead, he chose the United States Hockey league and ended up playing for Dubuque.
“He had a tough year last year;” Bradley said. “At Dubuque he was in 30 games but sustained a concussion that sidelined him for three months. That injury hurt his draft in terms of potentially getting drafted.”
Another avenue opened for Cody, however, and the Bradley’s grabbed it. A full scholorship to Colorado College, a Division I perpetual hockey powerhouse. Cody begins there in the fall.
“I really want him to go to college and get an education,” Bradley said. “It’s always good to have that to fall back on.”
Cody has been assured a starting spot on the third line as a freshman, but with an eventual goal of making the NHL, he knows he’ll have to progress from there.
“Today, you see a lot of guys coming to the NHL out of college as much as junior hockey,” Cody said. “It’s almost 50/50 now, and as much as anyone wants to go to the NHL, you have to have a fall-back plan and that’s why I think college is the best route.”
But that starts in September. This week was about taking part in his first pro camp and measuring himself against the competition.
“I think he’ll fit in. I think his skill level is very high,” Brian said. “I don’t think there will be a problem in terms of fitting in. I think he’ll be fine. His speed and the way he plays the game is similar to the way I played. He’s 5-foot-10 and 170 pounds so he’s getting bigger but he’s still a young kid. I think he’ll fit in well, but time will tell.”
One thing for sure. When your dad is a veteran of 651 NHL games over 13 seasons, you’re bound to get some good training.
“My dad has had a huge impact on me, from the perspective of a guy who has played the game,” Cody said. “He’s been a great coach all my life. He always pushes me to the next level. He makes me a better player. Every time I’m on the ice with him I’m looking to get better and he’s always trying to figure out ways to make me better.”
But still, there comes a time when a young man has to step away from his mentor’s shadow, and Cody understands that time is now.
“I didn’t see my dad in the stands today,” Cody said following the opening workout. “I‘m sure he was around here somewhere, but I’m getting older and on my own now.”