Monday, November 2, 2009

Catching Up With Brian Bradley, Part II

When he announced his retirement from the Tampa Bay Lightning in 1999, Brian Bradley ranked as the most prolific offensive player in team history. His 300 points in a Lightning sweater – 111 goals, 189 assists – highlighted a career that began in the 1985-86 season with the Calgary Flames. In 1992, the Lightning selected Bradley from the Toronto Maple Leafs in the NHL Expansion Draft. During the team’s first season, Bradley led the team with 42 goals and 86 points, earning the first of his two career All-Star Game appearances. Though injuries forced him from the game prematurely, Bradley remains one of the Lightning’s all-time greats. He recently sat down to talk about his career in Tampa and how he remains involved with the organization today. The following is the second of a two-part interview with Brian Bradley.

Q. After three seasons at the ThunderDome, the Lightning finally opened its own building, the Ice Palace, on October 20, 1996. What were your thoughts going into the opening home game against the New York Rangers?

A. To play Opening Night against the Rangers and Wayne Gretzky at home in front of 20,000 people, I mean, it was a special moment for all of us. Expo Hall and ThunderDome served their purpose, but the Ice Palace was a true hockey building. It really felt similar to Opening Night in 1992. I was fortunate enough to score the first goal, and the guy who scored the next one was Gretzky.

Q. The Lightning fell short of returning to the playoffs during the 1996-97 season, and began to decline as a team over the following years. To what do you attribute that fall-off?

A. After the playoff season, it got to the point where the organization could not afford to keep all of its players. We went from a competitive playoff team to a situation where ownership had to release or trade a bunch of veteran players. As you know, you can’t just throw young kids in the lineup and expect them to do as well as veterans. We struggled a bit and injuries started to take their toll as well.

Q. It was about that time that you developed a nagging wrist injury and had a serious concussion that kept you off the ice.

A. I think the wrist injury developed in the 1996 playoffs, but I continued playing until the 1997-98 season. Then I had the major concussion injury during a game at Los Angeles in November of 1997. The injury was severe enough that the doctors didn’t want me to take a chance again of playing. I had post-concussion syndrome for two years. I wasn’t feeling good, had migraines, and would get dizzy at certain times of day. It took a long time for me to get back to where I could function.

Q. You were called out for not playing hurt by teammate Dino Ciccarelli. At the time, that really had to sting coming from a guy in your own dressing room questioning your heart.

A. I’ve talked to Dino since then and he’s apologized to me. I think at the time I went down, the Lightning had lost 9 out of 10 games. We had a bad, bad start. It was frustrating for me because I had to deal with the concussion injury, the headaches, then trying to work out and getting sick. To have someone say something like, “our best player isn’t here because he doesn’t want to play,” I took it right to heart. I’d been with the organization for six straight years, and for someone to say that when the doctors didn’t clear me to play, I felt that wasn’t the right thing to do. I’d never been injured up until that time, so it was difficult to hear someone say that and not know the circumstances. I was going up to the University of Florida Shands Hospital every six months for tests, and the doctors would not clear me to play.
So, what could I do in terms of going on the ice to help the team? Doctors told me I still had post-concussion symptoms, and if I were to go on the ice and get hit, I could die. I don’t think the players really knew the ramifications and seriousness of the injury. I understood the seriousness though at that point, and I felt better after three years.

Q. Did you entertain the idea of coming back to play?

A. By that time, I was 36 years old. Could I have attempted a comeback? Maybe. But the doctors said, “It’s too risky to come back and try to play at your age. You’re married with three kids, you should think about doing something else and enjoy your life.” Yeah, I wanted to come back, but I didn’t want to take the chance of being in a coma the rest of my life or not getting to see my kids grow up.

Q. You’re back with the Lightning this season. What is your new role?

A. I’m the Director of Youth Hockey. I go out into the community and work with young hockey players at all levels. We’ve come up with a program called “Lightning Made,” where we set up clinics at rinks around the community.

Q. What do you make of the explosion of youth hockey in this area?

A. Well, I really think it’s just starting. The previous ownership really didn’t do a lot for youth hockey over the last 10 years, but the new group has the same vision I do. You need to go out in the community and have exposure at all the different rinks. We’re working at Brandon, Ellenton, Oldsmar, Clearwater and rinks as far east as Orlando and Daytona Beach. We have clinics once a month for kids, and we have kids come to our rink to promote the game, give them proper teaching, work with the coaches, work with the high school programs. We’re really trying to do a lot in terms of being active in the community, and I’m excited because giving back is what we want to do to further the sport of hockey.

Q. Some quick questions. What are your thoughts on original Lightning Head Coach Terry Crisp?

A. The thing about Terry Crisp is if you went out and worked hard, did your job, at the end of the day you could just sit down with him, have a beer and relax. With most coaches, that’s something you can’t do. Yeah, he was hard on some of the players and liked to yell and scream, but when you left the rink he’d still come up and ask how things were going and treat you like a human being.

Q. Who was the toughest guy you ever played with?

A. Enrico Ciccone, by far. Rudy Poeschek is right up there, but Ciccone was very, very tough, and he was always game to fight every night.

Q. Finally, two of the best players in Lightning history have worn the number 19: Brian Bradley and Brad Richards. Should the Lightning go ahead and just retire the number already?

A. (laughs) Well, I think they’ve got someone wearing it this year. You know what, Brad was a great player, won a Stanley Cup here and the Conn Smythe Trophy as well. I’m glad I paved the way wearing the number for six years, but was really glad to see a guy like Brad Richards – who’s a classy guy and a great player – wear the number after me.

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