Boston University standout defenseman Brian Strait
sat on the bench during the NCAA championship game against Miami (Ohio) and glanced up at the clock to see his top-seeded Terriers trailing the RedHawks, 3-1, with a minute remaining in the third period.
“With a minute left and we were still down by two goals,” Strait recalled, “I was like, ‘This isn’t good. This is over.’ I was sitting on the bench. It was like a blackout.”
Boston University stormed back in that final 60 seconds. The Terriers scored two goals, including the game-tying goal with just 17.4 seconds left in regulation, to force the title showdown into overtime.
“We scored the second goal and I don’t even remember what happened until we got into the locker room for overtime,” Strait said. “It was nuts.”
Boston University capped the comeback on Colby Cohen’s overtime-winning tally to lift the Terriers to their fifth national title and first since 1995.
“It was by far the greatest game I’ve ever been a part of,” Strait said. “It was by far the best experience in my hockey career. Going into the season all you want to do is win the championship. But to win it like that was a one-in-a-million thing. I was ecstatic to be a part of it. The season too, we had the most wins of any BU team. It was just a dream season and there was no better way to go out.”
And that dramatic championship game is how the Boston, Massachusetts native ended his stellar collegiate career. The defensive defenseman posted 23 points (5G, 18A) and 134 penalty minutes in 111 career games at Boston University and was the runner-up for the 2007-08 Hockey East Best Defensive Defenseman.
Strait opted to forgo his senior season and left Boston University to make the leap into the pros, signing a three-year entry-level contract with the Penguins – the team that selected him in the third round (65th overall) of the 2006 NHL Entry Draft.
This is what I’ve wanted to do since I was a kid; I wanted to be a professional hockey player. This is my shot, this is my chance. I’m ecstatic to be a part of the Penguins. I can’t wait to start my journey here. - Brian Strait
“It was difficult,” Strait said of his decision. “There were a lot of things that went into it. I really wanted to get a national championship. We ended up winning it. It was difficult but at the same time I achieved a lot of goals I wanted to achieve when I was there. I felt like it would do a lot of good to stay and finish out my senior year, get my degree. The more I looked at it, I’m going to get my degree. It may take a little longer but it’s going to happen. This is what I’ve wanted to do since I was a kid; I wanted to be a professional hockey player. This is my shot, this is my chance. I’m ecstatic to be a part of the Penguins. I can’t wait to start my journey here.”
“Brian is highly regarded in the organization,” Wilkes-Barre/Scranton head coach Todd Reirden said. “We’re lucky to have him join us after three years of college. He’s fresh off of a winning experience, which is always important – to add someone that’s a winner to your organization. He’s a mobile, stay-at-home defenseman that can be a physical a presence. He can be a difficult player to play against. I’m really excited about his future and what he can bring to the table.”
The 6-foot-1, 201-pound defenseman’s leadership abilities are one of his biggest strengths. He was the captain of the U.S. National Under-18 Team from 2004-06 and led the squad to a gold medal in the 2006 International Hockey Federation World Under-18 Championships.
“I think his leadership qualities, work ethic on the ice and attention to details are the things that are noted about him already in my early viewings of him,” Reirden said. “He was a captain for the U.S. national junior team. They don’t hand those Cs out without earning them, especially in the U.S. program. That’s years of service for him, working his way up. Character for him is at the top of the charts. He’s the type of player that, as a coach, you love to have on your team. You can use him as an example off the ice for his discipline and choices and the way that he goes about his business of not only making himself better, but the rest of the team.”
Strait is attending his third prospect camp with the Penguins this week but he really has his sights set on his first shot at professional training camp in September.
“It’s going to be amazing,” Strait said. “I’m a little nervous. You’ll be sitting in the same room as guys like Sidney Crosby
and Evgeni Malkin
, Sergei Gonchar. When you get on the ice with those guys, that’s when it becomes real. Right now I’m a little nervous but I’m sure once I get into it a little bit I’ll relax a little more and play a little hockey.”
Strait’s goal in training camp is to play his best and let the chips fall where they may. He would love to crack the Penguins’ lineup, but he’s mentally tough enough to not be discouraged if that doesn’t happen.
“I want to make the team like any other guy,” Strait said. “I’ll play my hardest and do whatever is asked of me. I don’t know what their plans are for me. I’m not going to be discouraged if I get sent down. It’s a learning process. It’s my first year at pro.
“If I get sent down that means I need more time. The AHL (American Hockey League) is the second-best league in the world. Mostly every team now you have to play some games in the AHL to get to where you want to go. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. I want to be an NHL player. They’ll tell me what I need to work on and hopefully that will help me get (to Pittsburgh) soon.”