North Bay Battalion head coach Stan Butler has a well-known mantra, and any player who has suited up in green would know it well.
“You either get better every day or you get worse,” recited 6-foot-6 Battalion captain Justin Brazeau. “Words to live by.”
A motto exemplified in the life and development of Brazeau, a former 13th round pick from the northern reaches of New Liskeard, Ont. who recently set a new Battalion single season franchise record with a league-leading 61 goals in 2018-19.
The big right winger recalls his draft day well, one he entered with a great deal of uncertainty. He’d put up 29 points (11-18–29) over 30 games with the New Liskeard Cubs Midget AAA team, entering the season weighing in at 5-foot-10 and 140Ibs.
“I hadn’t really talked to any teams before the draft, so I wasn’t sure what to expect,” said Brazeau. “The one connection I did have was my Midget coach Dan McDonald had played for Stan in Brampton and I know they still kept in touch a little bit. It was kind of a long wait but in the end it worked out.
“At the end of the day the round you’re drafted in is just a number,” he continued. “The guy taken in the first round still has to go out on the ice and play the game just like you do, so no matter where you’re picked you just have to look at it as an opportunity.”
Needless to say, Brazeau made the most of his shot.
After spending his 16-year-old season back in New Liskeard, Brazeau made the jump to full-time duty with the Battalion in 2015-16 and saw his production gradually increase over the course of his four seasons in North Bay. He finished with 238 career regular season points (128-110–238), the third-highest total in franchise history behind Wojtek Wolski and Cody Hodgson.
“He’s worked hard in the gym and on the ice,” chimed Butler of Brazeau earlier in the season. “He’s a model citizen and a leader for us. He’s an example of what we want our players to be.”
After years of hard work and development, the big flank was recently rewarded for his efforts. Brazeau signed a two-year American Hockey League contract with the Toronto Marlies this past week, joining the top affiliate of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
For all his success, Brazeau’s time in the OHL started from small beginnings when he saw his name pop up on the computer screen at 254th overall.
“I had grown four of five inches during my minor midget season and I hadn’t really filled out so I was pretty skinny,” he said with a laugh. “It’s cool to look back on it though and to realize that hard work really does pay off. I’m thankful for the coaches and all the people in North Bay who have invested in me.”
Brazeau concluded with a word of wisdom to OHL Priority Selection hopefuls.
“I’d just say try your best to enjoy the day. No matter where you’re picked, or for some guys not picked, it really comes down to what you do after the draft and what you’re willing to put in. You just try and make an impression with the opportunities that come your way.
“Wherever you end up, it really just comes down to trying to get better every day.”