Three seasons ago, Brett Brochu was playing Jr. C with the Dresden Jr. Kings.
The next year, he was suddenly one of the OHL's best goaltenders a year after going in the sixth round of the league's selection process. Then, he lost the entire 2020-21 season, just as he was starting to prove he can be a top goaltender in major junior.
Talk about a weird road to Canada's World Junior Championship team.
Brochu is set to make his national team debut with Canada when he starts the team's second game of the tournament against Austria on Tuesday. He's not actually new to Hockey Canada, despite never suiting up for the team, though. Brochu was one of a handful of goalies brought to camp during the COVID-19 pandemic last year, and despite a couple of good intra-squad performances prior to a two-week shutdown to an internal outbreak, Brochu was cut and sent home.
Brochu's only game of action was on a tryout contract with the AHL's Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins, resulting in a tough 5-2 loss at the hands of the Hershey Bears in mid-May. He practiced with the team for much of the year to keep in playing shape, but it was a long time between meaningful junior games for the 19-year-old.
His entire career has been about proving people wrong.
Playing in the Alliance U-16 league in 2017-18, it wasn't common for OHL scouts to put too much focus into the league, especially with the GTHL being so strong. The Knights saw some potential, and after getting drafted, he went off to Dresden -- an Ontario town with a population below 3,000 -- to ply his craft for a year. He won the PCJHL's rookie of the year title with a league-leading 27 wins 38 games, practically dominating the fourth-best junior league in Ontario. It was the one place the Knights could guarantee significant playing time for the 16-year-old, something that isn't always common for other goalies who go the Jr. A route or right off to the OHL immediately.
Brochu assumed the starter's crease in London the following year and exploded with a 32-6-0 record. Despite the impressive numbers, Brochu went undrafted -- and largely due to his small 5-foot-11 frame. Very few goalies sub-six-foot end up becoming NHLers, and Brochu had a good team in front of him. Brochu wasn't really on the draft radar in his first crack at it back in 2020 and was passed over again in 2021, likely because of his lack of playing time.
Still, he caught Hockey Canada's attention, and they invited him to camp last year. He didn't make the team, and he didn't have much to do after that, but he was determined to make Canada and prove to NHL scouts that he has a future in the big leagues someday.
"I just use (being undrafted) as motivation," Brochu said Monday afternoon.
That day on the national stage is here. Still undrafted, Brochu has a chance to really raise his draft stock at this tournament. This could be his only game, however, and it's against a tired Austrian team that lost 7-1 to Finland on Monday, but Brochu has done everything in his power this season to prove what he's capable of.
His third crack at the draft, however, is still a few months away. Brochu will return to London in hopes of leading them to a championship once the tournament ends, and Brochu definitely has been one of the better goalies in major junior. Brochu has an all-time OHL record of 48-11-1 -- playing on a good team helps, but ask anyone on London and they'll credit Brochu as being one of the team's most important players night in and night out.
The focus now? It's doing whatever it takes to help Canada win the ultimate prize in Edmonton.
"Ever since I was a kid, I dreamt of that moment," Brochu said.
Never give up, kids.