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                          ONE STEP FORWARD, TWO STEPS BACK
                                                                                                                                                          Dedicated to my wonderful billets: Frank and Cheryl Boyle and Keith and Cathy Scott

Hockey is a game that I owe almost everything to. I was blessed from a young age with natural ability that a very good percentage of kids would’ve only dreamed to have. I was by no means anything close to one of those kids who people would look at and think, “wow that kid is unbelievable, he is going to the NHL for sure. “However, I had the skills that made me an elite player growing up. I knew from a young age that I could be a good hockey for a long time if I ultimately realized that is what I wanted to pursue.

When I was younger all I cared about was being drafted high in the WHL Bantam Draft. On draft day, it was getting to be the middle of the second round and I still had not been selected. I can’t say I was overly disappointed but I knew that I was going to be selected very soon. Prince George held the 32nd overall pick and Red Deer held the next one at 33 . I was really hoping that I would go to Red Deer but a part of me just knew that Prince George. Growing up Rich Sutter was a close family friend of ours and his brother Brent was/currently is head coach, GM, and owner of the Rebels. Rich had told me that Red Deer was very interested in me and that they would have probably selected me if I was still available. Although I will never know if that was 100 percent the case the Rebels were fortunate that the Cougars selected me one pick before because they ended up selecting Alex Petrovic, he currently plays in the NHL for the Florida Panthers. Being drafted was a proud moment for me but I can’t deny that Prince George was not my desired place at the time. In saying that I was willing to work hard and try to become the best player I could in an attempt to help the Cougars become a better team because they were gaining a reputation as a struggling franchise.

In late August of 2008 I headed up to Prince George for training camp in hopes of securing a roster spot and fulfilling my dream of playing in the WHL, something I always wanted to do from an extremely young age. For whatever reason I just didn’t have it at training camp and I was not playing to my full potential. I could tell the organization was excited to have me as a prospect so I felt like I let the organization down with my subpar play at training camp as a 16 year old. Deep down I just knew I wasn’t quite ready to make the jump to the WHL. It was disappointing but on the other hand I knew for my long term development that heading back to Lethbridge for another year of Midget would be good for me. To this day I truly believe it was. The Cougars suffered some substantial injuries that season and actually asked me in early January if I wanted to come back to PG and finish the season with them. It was a tough decision because I felt I could gain some valuable experience heading into my first full season the year later but I declined their offer. My main reason to stay in Lethbridge was because I was the captain of my Midget team and we were having a great season, I wanted to pursue a championship. Unfortunately we fell short of that but I’m glad I stayed in Lethbridge. It allowed me to get a bunch of my high school done and ultimately made my course load lighter in Grade 12.

When my midget team was eliminated from the playoffs the Cougars called me up to finish the season with them. They had finished up their regular season schedule and were headed into their first round playoff series against the powerhouse Vancouver Giants. I guess you could say I was sort of ‘thrown into the wolves’ as my first WHL game ended up being against the Giants in front of 8000-9000 fans at the Pacific Coliseum. It was a little intimidating going from playing in front of a couple hundred people to hearing thousands of fans cheering on a team who only lost 10 games out of 72, and whose roster was stacked with future NHL talent. We lost the game 8-0 from my recollection but it was still a proud moment for me. I had finally fulfilled my dream of playing a Western Hockey League game.
August of 2009 was when I headed back up to Prince George in preparations for my first full year in the WHL. I was feeling confident in my abilities to make the jump. When I got to PG the General Manager Dallas Thompson approached me and asked if I wanted to be a part of a documentary that a production company from Quebec was putting on. At first I was a little confused and wondered what the heck he could possibly be talking about. It turned out that this company wanted me to star as one of six Western Hockey League hopefuls where they would film us from the start of training camp to the first game of the regular season where we could hopefully say that we made the team and were officially members of the Prince George Cougars. I was fortunate enough to be one of three who cracked the roster. The official name of the documentary was the ‘Rookies’ and it aired on national TV via Sportsnet. To this day I still periodically pop in the DVD and, to reinvest in some good memories.

My first WHL season was disastrous for our team. We only won 12 games, the lowest win total in the entire Canadian Hockey League. It was certainly a long season and one that I was glad to see come to an end. The travel definitely took a lot out of me. On a personal note, I had a pretty decent rookie season amassing 25 points including 13 goals. These numbers certainly aren’t jaw dropping by any means but playing on such a bad team they were actually pretty good. All in all my first year in Prince George was tough because I hadn’t ever been on a bad team growing up. In saying that, I was looking forward to next season knowing that I could build on my personal success. I left Prince George with my head held high and was excited for the season to come.

As I started to train for the upcoming season I started to feel some discomfort in my left shoulder. I had hurt my shoulder the previous season although it only caused me to miss a couple games. Most WHL teams perform end of the season medicals with their players and the Cougars were no different. The doctors were quite confused when I sustained the original injury because I dislocated my shoulder and it had to be put back into place by the doctor in the dressing room. Within a few days, to the medical staff’s amazement, I had exceptional range of motion back in my shoulder and the strength was good. It was almost unheard of a player returning to play 7-10 days after a shoulder dislocation, as it is usually a 5-6 week recovery period. I was able to pass all the protocols that doctors put me through.
However, there were a few scenarios where my shoulder just didn’t feel normal, so I decided to see a doctor in Lethbridge in hopes of getting refereed to a surgeon who could take a closer look. I notified the Cougars that my shoulder appeared to be nagging me and they agreed that going to the doctor in my hometown was the right thing to do. The surgeon was very good and basically said that if these dislocations were happening it was almost a certainty that I would need surgery. He was confident that he could get me in within 6 weeks and I agreed that we should just go ahead with the surgery. I was lucky and I actually ended up getting in something like 2-3 weeks after my consultation because somebody had cancelled. I figured the sooner I get in, the sooner I recover and the sooner I would be able to play the next season.

June 11, 2010 proved to be my first but certainly not my last shoulder surgery. Dr. Kwan an orthopedic surgeon in Lethbridge performed the operation. I got to the hospital at 7:00 am and surgery was scheduled for 10:00 a.m. They made me stay overnight in the hospital, which had been their plan all along.  All in all the procedure went well but Dr. Kwan did say that my labrum was torn pretty badly. The fact that mine was torn is what caused these frequent dislocations.

My protocol called me to be in a sling for six weeks and I was only allowed to take my sling off twice a day to do very small arm circles. The point of this was to make sure my arm didn’t stiffen up to much from being in a sling almost 24/7. Within 2 weeks I started going to the gym, which is obviously pretty limited when you have a sling on. I found a love for the stair master machine. My other option was to ride a stationary bike but I quickly decided that the stair master was something I enjoyed much more.

Although I was trying to stay as active as possible and do what I could I started drinking a lot that summer. It was my first summer of being legal age to drink so I found myself getting drunk pretty much every Friday and Saturday. I had not been a big drinker prior but I certainly hit the sauce hard that summer. A part of me thinks I was bored and didn’t have much to do but we all know that when someone says that they are just lying to themselves to try and rationalize that their decisions were okay. Deep down I know that my excessive drinking that summer put me behind the eight ball for the next hockey season when I was already going to be behind the eight ball from not being able to train very much after recovering from the surgery. To this day I wish I wouldn’t have drunk so much that summer.
I missed training camp and the start of exhibition but I was able to suit up for our last two pre season games. This was pretty remarkable because I was able to play 13 weeks after my operation. Our season started off pretty well and our roster was much improved from last season. I felt like we would certainly be a playoff team this season with the potential to do more damage than that.  In only our fourth or fifth game of the season I sustained a minor knee injury. It was in the last few minutes of a game against Vancouver. I was devastated because we were set to go on a road trip that included a stop in my hometown against the Hurricanes. I had that game penciled in on my schedule from the time the WHL schedule was released in the spring for two reasons. First off, it was going to be my first game in Lethbridge because we didn’t play there the season before. Secondly, the plan was for me to take the ceremonial faceoff even though I was not the captain. The reason for this was because my family owns two Dairy Queens (trademark) in Lethbridge and every year we sponsor the Home Opener. I was looking forward to taking the ceremonial faceoff while my mom dropped the puck. She has always been my biggest supporter and a person who has been there for me no matter what. I was pleasantly shocked when I found out that the Hurricanes inquired that if there was any way I could still take the faceoff despite my injury that I would be allowed to. It certainly sucked not being able to play but I respect the Hurricanes organization for atheist making one of the two reasons why I was so excited to come back to Lethbridge a reality.
My knee injury only caused me to miss four games and when I returned I felt really good. Our team was playing very well and it was nice to be winning some games. Our roster had many offensive threats including Brett Connolly who had missed almost the entire previous season to injury. I was able to score some goals and put up a few points in my first few games of the season, which always feels nice. That season I only finished with eight goals and most of those were scored in my first few games. After the quarter-point of the season I went through the worst scoring slump of my hockey career. I had always been able to score goals at every level. The WHL is certainly a great league, one in which even the best players will experience scoring droughts at some point. In saying that I lost all my confidence in my offensive abilities as my 18-year-old season dragged along. Thankfully our team was scoring a ton of goals and we were still winning.
We lead the B.C. Division at the trade deadline but decided to not make any trades and went with our current roster. Down the stretch we struggled a little bit and eventually were overtaken by Kelowna who ended up winning the division. It was a bit heartbreaking because the Cougars had never won a division title and we really wanted to be the first team to do so. We finished the season with a 33-35-4 record, good enough for seventh place in the Western Conference and a first round matchup with Kelowna who was awarded second in the conference for winning the division. The U.S. division was much stronger so although Kelowna was second in the conference they were only a few points ahead of us in the standings. We truly felt like we could beat them in the playoffs and with a roster that many people wouldn’t argue was one of the best in the WHL.
We played Kelowna tough in the playoff series. We led after two periods in at least three of the four. Our third periods killed us every game and we could simply not seal the deal and get victories. Kelowna is the model franchise for the Western Hockey League and they definitely deserve credit. There is a reason they have had as much success as they have had. I can remember after the third game when we were down 3-0 in the series and their head coach Ryan Huska saying that by how well the two teams had played he was surprised that we weren’t up 3-0 in the series.
My second season in the WHL definitely yielded more success as a team and that was definitely a positive. On a personal note I was frustrated with the lack of scoring I was able to bring to the table. Going from 13 goals as a rookie to only being able to score eight as a sophomore was definitely disappointing. I was still able to get lots of ice time and was an important cog on the penalty kill. Although I still held a big role on the team I was honestly disappointed in my offensive production because scoring is fun and I had always been a scorer. Although I knew I didn’t have my best season I was happy that I stayed relatively healthy all year. I was optimistic about my 19-year-old season and was ready to have a breakout season. I projected myself as a 40-50 point producer and that I could score 20-25 goals no problem because I felt like I couldn’t be in a slump forever. I understood that 19 year olds are expected to carry their respective teams and that is fully what I intended to do.
Everything seemed smooth sailing when I showed up for my third season as a 19 year old. We had acquired my good friend Drew Owsley from Tri-Cities to secure us between the pipes and I felt like once Brett Connolly returned from Tampa Bay Lightning camp we would be able to build on the successes of last season. Unfortunately Tampa Bay decided to keep Brett in Tampa that season. We were obviously happy for Brett but it sucked because he was probably going to be the best player in the WHL that season.
It threw off our managements plan for the season as well. Obviously acquiring Owsley, who was one of the top goaltenders in the league, meant that we were serious about making a run. When we learned that Conno wasn’t going to be back our management chose to go in another direction and we had six 16 year olds on our roster, almost unheard of. Our 16 year olds played very well for us that season but at the end of the day they were only 16 and the WHL is relatively an older league.
Amidst the tough news that we had endured as a team early in the season we stayed positive and tried to work as hard as we could and win with the roster we had. Unfortunately the team and myself we were dealt more bad news only 20 seconds into our second game of the season, our home opener. I was the starting centreman that game and on my first shift I got tangled up with Tim Traber, a very tough player from Victoria. We proceeded to drop the gloves which was not a great idea because Traber was a proven tough guy in the league and I wasn’t…my right shoulder this time proceeded to pop out during the fight, so I just fell to the ice hoping the linesman would come to my rescue. It may have been a blessing at the time because he probably would have started to tee off on my face.
A month later my shoulder was significantly better and I was allowed to return to play. My team doctor had ordered a brace for me to wear that would hopefully eliminate my shoulder from being able to come out of the socket and dislocate. The brace had not shown up yet and I was eager to play so I convinced the doctor to let me play without it. I was feeling good and my shoulder was not hindering my play. Eventually the brace showed up after 4 games of playing without it. Amazingly nothing happened when I didn’t have the brace on but two or three games into having the brace disaster struck again. I took a heavy hit in Everett when we were playing the Silvertips. I didn’t see the guy coming until I was flat on my rear end. As I started to get up I knew the feeling all too well. I could tell my right shoulder had popped out again and this time it hurt a lot more than I remember it previous.
   The next three weeks were filled with many talks with our team doctor about a possible plan for what to do. From going through this before I knew I needed surgery and I was really lucky to get in for surgery on December 5, 2011 in Prince George. It was heartbreaking knowing my season was over but good that I could get in roughly 3 weeks from sustaining the most recent dislocation. The procedure went well and I could at least smile knowing that I should be healthy enough to train come the spring.
Come the spring I was very motivated to ensure that I continued to work up the strength in my shoulder and get myself in peak physical condition so that I could secure a roster spot the upcoming season. Each team is only allowed three 20 year olds and I was honestly very nervous that I would get cut because I had sustained so many injuries and I hadn’t really proven myself to the Cougars yet.
The fact that the Cougars invited me back to training camp was a good first step. A lot of teams release players in the summer prior to their 20 year old season so that they can make plans as to which Junior A team they will play for if they cannot find a home in the dub. By being able to come back to training camp it at least told me that the Cougars were willing to give me another shot but it was up to me to take this opportunity and run with it. This really motivated me and made me want to prove to them that I could be a contributor as a 20 year old. I made it through training camp and the Cougars notified me that I was in their plans to be one of the three 20 year olds. I was ecstatic.’ The Cougars also decided that they wanted me to be their captain that season. When I received this news it was one of and quite possibly my proudest moment of my life to date. To be named captain of a Western Hockey League team was an absolute dream and knowing that I would be one of only 22 guys bearing the ‘C’ in the best developmental league in the world was truly an honor. I got pretty emotional and couldn’t help but thank all the teammates and coaches that helped me along the way and of course my parents, it wouldn’t have been possible without them.
The year started promising for us and I believe we started 5-1.I had my first career three-point game against Kelowna, which included two goals and an assist. We started to stumble a little bit down the stretch but one thing that really sticks out to me was scoring a goal in my hometown against the Hurricanes. It was pretty cool being able to score in the building that I grew up adoring the Hurricanes and always knowing I wanted to play in that league.
I didn’t know it at the time but November 9, 2012 would be the last time I would lace them up in the WHL. We were playing Edmonton, I got hit and my left shoulder popped out. The same shoulder I hurt in 2010. To this day I honestly don’t remember the hit and I even had to go on the WHL website and look who we were playing. When I discovered it was Edmonton I got a bit of inkling that TJ Foster was the guy who hit me and I do believe that’s who it was. I know it was a clean hit and TJ was not a dirty player.
On December 5, 2012 I showed up to the arena with a sling on my left shoulder. My teammates did not know what was going on but I could see they had concerned looks on their faces. Prior to this they were under the impression that I was going to try and return to play. The reason I had to get surgery was because the surgeon in Prince George feared that the most recent dislocation had ripped the bone anchor from my previous surgery out. The problem with this was that there was a very good chance that this anchor was just ‘swimming’ around in my tissue and it would eat the cartilage away. That was something I certainly didn’t want to happen. They told me if I didn’t go in for surgery I could potentially develop bad arthritis and not be able to swing a golf club. Golf is my other passion besides hockey so obviously I elected for the surgery.
Over Christmas I needed to decide whether I wanted to come back and be the second assistant coach as unlike most teams we only had one. The year prior I actually did that and I decided I wanted to help out. I learned a lot from my brief time coaching and the highlight was definitely one game where our head coach was suspended. Our assistant coach had to assume head coaching duties so I got to run the defensive side of the bench. I was responsible for calling out which players I wanted on the ice and at what times. It was a cool feeling. We were playing Kelowna who was a really good team and in the first period they only got two shots on net. I can remember the GM coming into the coach’s office to say that I deserved a case of beer for how well the defenseman played in the first period. Something I will always remember.
In late January our head coach got fired which was tough for me because I had a really good relationship with him but I understood that we were struggling and that junior hockey is a business. The new coach made it clear that I was welcome to continue my duties if I desired. Mark Hollick was hired and I knew he was a very good coach so it would have been a great opportunity to learn even more. I ended up deciding to return to Lethbridge because I was struggling with being so close to the action but not being able to play. I returned to Lethbridge just in time for my 21st birthday in hopes that my San Francisco 49ers could give me the best 21st birthday present I could ever ask for and win the Super Bowl. My junior hockey career was officially over and the Niners didn’t win.
In January 2016 I got a text to call my doctor. We were driving on the bus to our game with my CIS hockey the Lethbridge Pronghorns. My doctor notified me that I had testicular cancer. It didn’t come as a huge shock to me because I had not been feeling well for a few months. I did some research and sort of thought that it was a possibility. Obviously it’s still a shock because nobody expects to have cancer but it certainly helped that I did my research and educated myself. I asked my doctor if I could still play in the two games in Regina and he said that would be fine. I notified my coach and one guy on my team who was diagnosed with the same cancer no more than 14 months earlier before the first game. After our second game that weekend I broke the news to the rest of our team. The amount of support I have received throughout this process has been amazing and hockey is a huge reason for that. When I look back and reflect I realize that 85 percent of the people I know on this planet are probably connected to me somehow someway through hockey. My junior hockey career had some hardships no doubt, it was never fun having to go through so many shoulder injuries but I wouldn’t trade my junior hockey career for anything. I still talk weekly to many of the guys I played with and these friendships will last forever. The connections I have made have helped me keep my spirits high through my current battle and I truly believe that this support will help me beat this.

If donating to cancer research and development is something that interests you I have created a page. These funds are not to benefit me personally but will hopefully help medical professionals continue to find new ways to “shutout” cancer so that future people affected by cancer have the best possible chance to live. Any amount helps, no matter how big or how small!
Follow me on twitter: @bigsexytweet10 (the link is in my bio) or….
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                                                                                                                        Brock Hirsche                                                                                                                

                                                                                                THE JUNIOR HOCKEY JOURNAL