Ben Brunette has turned some heads in hockey with his development over the last two seasons, and the CJHL Prospects Game helped tangibly measure that improvement.
The 17-year-old Brunette, who had a breakout season with the midget ‘AAA’ North Bay Trappers last season before making a commitment to NCAA UMass-Lowell, was among the 40 players selected for Tuesday’s CJHL Top Prospects Game in Hamilton.
Given the platform to showcase his skills, the five-foot-11, 170-pound Brunette more than just took part.
The event also involved pre-game on-ice testing sessions for the 36 skaters co-ordinated through NHL Central Scouting and Sport Testing Inc. that provided athlete analysis and data. The 10 individual skating tests involved forward and backward speed testing, transition agility, weave agility and reaction drills, with and without the puck.
Team West had a higher-skilled squad and that showed up in the testing, with the top four players coming from the Manitoba and Alberta Junior Hockey Leagues.
The highest-rated player on Team East?
Ben Brunette, now in his first season of junior hockey with the CCHL’s Carleton Place Canadians.
The test results were no surprise for those who watched Tuesday night’s CJHL Prospects Game closely. Brunette showcased his elite skating ability while mixing in some physicality and fitting right in with Canada’s best junior ‘A’ players, earning an assist for Team East in a 6-4 loss.
“It was a really good change,” Brunette said post-game. “I liked the pace, it was really fun. I thought our team was really good and with all the skill, there were a lot of chances to move up in the play and kind of play my game.”
In Carleton Place this season, Brunette is asserting himself on a first-place club (37-5-5), contributing four goals and 15 points on a veteran-laden team ranked fourth in Canada.
“I like to think I’m improving every practice,” Brunette said. “Our team is doing really well this year so it’s a good group to play with. I just want to keep getting faster and stronger and keep making plays.”
Carleton Place coach Jason Clarke, in comments provided to media, described Brunette as one of the CCHL’s toughest defencemen, pound-for-pound, which complements his elite skating and offensive abilities.
“But what makes him a special player is that he is an elite listener,” Clarke said. “He can take information and translate it to his game instantly.”
Brunette acknowledges his play has come along since being passed over in the 2018 OHL draft. His time in North Bay coming up through the system with a talented group had a lot to do with getting things rolling.
“I’ve been on the ice a lot in the summers with Mike Stockfish and last year, Guy Blanchard had a lot of confidence in me and our team was really good, so I was able to do my thing and keep progressing,” he said.
Brunette was able to experience Tuesday’s CJHL Prospects Game protecting the net in front of longtime Trappers teammate, goaltender Reece Proulx.
Proulx stopped 15 of 18 shots in Tuesday’s game.
“I was a bit nervous, but I settled down and made a few saves,” Proulx said. “They got a couple past me, but it’s an all-star game. I thought it was a lot of fun. It was kind of like an OHL game, really fast.”
A North Bay Battalion draft pick who has already appeared in two OHL games for his hometown team, Proulx is playing his rookie junior season in the CCHL with the Pembroke Lumber Kings.
He is getting more than his share in net as a 17-year-old, playing 34 games so far with a 2.75 goals-against average and .922 save percentage.
“I want to make the Battalion next year coming out of camp and keep getting better and see how far I can go,” Proulx said. “I need to get a bit bigger and faster. My endurance has to get a bit better just to keep up with the pace and stay on top of my game. I think I can do it.”
That he got to play in Tuesday’s game with Brunette and fellow former Trapper Cole Craft made for a great experience.
“It’s awesome,” he said. “It was really cool to play in this game with those guys. Ben is one of my best buddies, so it was comforting and it’s cool to see.”