ROTHESAY, N.B. — There comes a point in most promising young hockey players’ careers when they must make a decision between staying at home and moving away.
And so it was for 15-year-old Bradley Blake of Gander Bay. The former Central IcePak captain is now playing in Rothesay, N.B. for the Rothesay Netherwood School Riverhawks of the Midwest Prep Hockey League (MPHL).
“It’s cool, it’s lots of fun,” he told The Central Voice. “The hockey is good here and we go all over the place. We go to the States and we go to Ontario and places like that, western Canada, and it’s lots of fun.”
The league is made up of private schools from Quebec, Vermont, Ontario, New York, Ohio, Illinois and Pennsylvania.
Between academics, physical training, hockey practice, travel and competition, Blake’s plate is full. And it is not just limited to the hockey season. To prepare for this year, he attended a hockey academy in Montreal.
“We were in the gym six days a week and on the ice almost every day and it was training and training and training, and that’s what you have to do to play at this level,” he said.
The hard work has paid off with a selection to the Newfoundland and Labrador team for the Canada Winter Games in Red Deer, Alberta Feb. 15-March 3, 2019.
“He’s a great kid, he works hard in school, he works hard in the gym and he works hard on the ice.”
– Jeff Lewis
“That was an awesome feeling,” Bradley said. “I was talking to some of the people who played four years ago; they said it was the time of their life, it was an awesome experience. So, I’m just really looking forward to having the opportunity to represent my province at such a big event like that.”
Jeff Lewis, Rothesay Netherwood director of hockey, said the school is happy to have him.
“He’s adapted well,” Lewis said. “He’s still making the transition a little bit from Bantam as they all are; it’s bigger, faster, quicker hockey when you get to this level, but he’s doing really well.
“He’s a great kid, he works hard in school, he works hard in the gym and he works hard on the ice. He’s been a nice addition to our team for sure.”
Melissa Blake, Bradley’s mother, said advancing to an elite level is not just a commitment for the player, but for the entire family. Living in a small outport (Georges Point) with no local access to gyms and arenas, the Blakes maintained their own rink in a detached garage and converted their attached garage to a workout space so Bradley could practice and stay in shape at home.
“We kind of switched our whole house upside down for him,” Melissa said.
There was also a huge time and financial commitment. Last year, Bradley played for the Bantam AAA IcePak and practised with the Major Midget team.
“We were on the road three days a week, and then travelling to St. John’s and to his home stadium, which was an hour-and-a-half each way,” Melissa said. “We were doing this three days a week and then every weekend we were travelling as well, so in the car we would be studying together while I was driving.”
And, of course, it is hard on a mom.
“Our lives went from being extremely busy every single day to not having him around, which is very difficult,” she said.
For his part, Bradley said it is sometimes tough being away from home, but he is a little less sentimental about it.
“I’m not the type of person to get homesick, I love adventures and doing different things and I love this whole program here,” he said.
In 2017-18, Blake racked up 18 goals and 12 assists in 39 games between regular season and playoffs in the Newfoundland and Labrador AAA Bantam league.
Ultimately, Blake has his eyes on a professional hockey career, but is taking it one step at a time.
“I guess you could say (the NHL is) the long-term goal, but right now I’m just looking to have a good year and maybe get drafted in the 2019 QMJHL (Quebec Major Junior) draft and maybe that could be my career for the next few years.”