Southern California doesn’t seem like it would be a hotbed of hockey, but three Stanley Cup championships between the L.A. Kings and the Anaheim Ducks in the last ten years, plus a finals appearance by the San Jose Sharks, is a testament to the growth of the game in that region. This NHL presence has also translated into home grown hockey talent, including Saints netminder Art Brey, a native of Yorba Linda, California, a suburb of Los Angeles, and fan of the Anaheim Ducks.
When he was younger, ice hockey wasn’t quite as popular in the area as it is now, and in fact, Brey’s hockey career didn’t begin on ice skates, but roller skates.
“I grew up walking distance from what is now the Honda Center, but I didn’t get into hockey until my dad was driving home from work and saw a sign for roller hockey, the Anaheim hockey club, and he asked me if I wanted to play. I was like four years old, and already had a stick, like playing around in the driveway, but my first real hockey was roller hockey.”
As for his first ice hockey experience? Brey remembers most of it, at least, the part he was awake for.
“I remember my first ever Mighty Ducks game, I was five years old and I remember walking to the game on my dad’s shoulders, and I think we left in the second period because I fell asleep,” Brey continued.
Brey specifically recalls watching Jean-Sebastien Giguere tend goal for the Anaheim Ducks during their run to the Cup Finals in 2003, roughly when Brey says he transitioned to ice hockey, and though he doesn’t model his game after a specific goalie, Brey does credit Giguere’s performance as the main reason he became a goalie when he switched to ice hockey.
One of the main differences between hockey in California and hockey in a more traditional market, say Minnesota or New England, is the number of programs available for younger players, though the scene has changed in recent years with the success of the NHL teams in the region, and the corresponding growth in the sport’s popularity. While many players had to travel long distances, even leave home, to find high level hockey, that wasn’t a problem for Brey, for one main reason.
“Well, I asked my dad about prep school, but he made it clear that I was his until I graduated high school,” Brey laughed. “I played at the Yorba Linda Ice Palace, with the Yorba Linda Blackhawks, now I think they’re the Jr. Ducks, but it’s a great program, and I started there, in-house, at mite level, and I stayed there up until AAA. I feel really grateful that I didn’t have to jump around to find good hockey like a lot of other California kids do.”
Another benefit of sticking with the same program for as long as Brey did is the connections made with other players. Current Clarkson assistant captain Brett Gervais and former Providence forward Garrett Gamez, who was recently forced to hang up the skates because of health issues, are both former teammates of Brey in Yorba Linda, and despite the fact that they wear different jerseys now, they remain good friends.
After high school, Brey left Southern California for the USHL, playing with the Dubuque Fighting Saints and Sioux Falls Stampede before arriving at St. Lawrence. His experience moving to a new, very different place, and playing with a new team after playing out of the same rink for nearly ten years, was a challenge unlike anything he had faced.
Dubuque, a city of roughly 60,000, pales in comparison to the metropolitan cities of California that Brey was used to. The weather is also significantly different, and for the first time in his career, he was in a new rink, in a new state, with new teammates, and he admitted the transition was difficult, at first, but once the puck dropped, he found himself right at home on the ice.
He won his first 13 games as a rookie in Dubuque and made the top prospects game that the USHL holds around Christmas each year, and although he had to sit out because of injury, his red-hot start put him on the map for recruiting. However, it was not until his second year in the USHL, when he was playing for the Sioux Falls Stampede, that Brey heard from St. Lawrence. Former SLU assistant coach Jared DeMichiel, a goalie himself, reached out, and the two hit it off.
“Our conversations would go on for hours, not even talking about hockey, just shooting the breeze,” said Brey, and while he didn’t get to visit campus before committing, he was certain about his decision. “I had two good buddies, Christian Horn and Nolan Gluchowski, who played at SLU, and knowing that I knew people there was big in my decision. I had also been shipped around once in the USHL, so I wanted a place that had a homey feel, and St. Lawrence definitely had that.”
After two years in the backup role in which he saw limited action, but impressed, yes in his performance against Penn State as a rookie, but also last year in relief of Kyle Hayton at Harvard, playing more than half the game and stopping 21 of 22 shots, allowing SLU to get back into the game, Brey is the bonafide starter for St. Lawrence entering his junior season. The schedule is tough to start, and with a big series upcoming and the Saints looking for wins, Brey is staying positive.
“I feel good, I think the team feels good, the coaching staff feels good. We’ve all been working really hard, and most importantly, everyone is coming to the rink with a good attitude,” said Brey. “I’ve been doing the right things all along, and I’m going to keep doing the right thing, and I’m excited to get the chance to play.”
Brey made his own path to St. Lawrence. He didn’t feel the pressure from parents or coaches to excel beyond his years, and this paid dividends.
“When I was growing up, I wasn’t too concerned with playing high level hockey, and my parents did it the right way, they didn’t force anything on me, and I think it was my love for the game that really kept me in the game,” Brey said. “I think more than anything, having stuck with the same coaches for so long was big for me. Looking back on it, that was one of the best things for me, just sticking to the process.”
“I think that the one drawback from my parents not pushing the sport on me, was that I didn’t really start getting competitive enough until 16,” Brey continued. “At that point, its late to start thinking about that, but I had coaches who told me I could play, so I had supporters, but I think, sticking with the same coaches, I was in good hands, and then I got to Dubuque and I thought ‘hey, I’ve really got a shot at this.’”
From falling asleep at his first NHL game to starting in goal for the Saints, from Southern California to the North Country of New York and several places in between, Art Brey’s hockey journey even spans amalgamations of the game itself. His love of hockey developed organically and given the time to grow into his game, Brey has flourished into a starting goalie at the D-I level, along with fellow SoCal natives Justine Reyes and Kayla Neilsen on the Saints women’s team. Southern California hockey is alive and well, in the frozen northern reaches of New York.