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03/04/2011 12:01 AM -

Brent Raedeke is doing his best to follow his father’s advice as he adjusts to life in the pros.

Story and photo by Mark Newman

Every aspiring young hockey player needs a little something to put them in a favorable position as they grow and develop. Call it an edge, if you will – it’s an asset that gives them an advantage for advancement.

For Brent Raedeke, the dream of someday playing under the bright lights of a National Hockey League arena always seemed like a possibility, thanks to the support and encouragement of his family.

His parents, Mike and Mary Ann, like millions of others, gave their full blessing to the pursuit of his dream. There were, of course, countless rides to practices, weekend tournaments and summer camps.

But the Raedeke family took it to another level.

His father and uncle had both had a taste of professional hockey: his father in the now-defunct Southwest Hockey League in the mid-70s, and his uncle Mark for the AHL’s New Haven Nighthawks and the Flint Spirits of the old IHL in the mid-80s.

Brent was already on skates by the age of four, but the real asset was the outdoor rink down the road in his hometown of Regina, Saskatchewan.

“My uncle lived a block away and he built a backyard rink that was a decent size, so all the kids in the neighborhood would go over there a lot during the winter,” Raedeke recalled.

“It had two big spotlights, one on each end, and had foot-high boards that my uncle painted with red trim. The rink had painted goal lines, blue lines, center red line and even face-off dots.”

Best of all, the ice was perfect for budding hockey players looking to improve their skills.

“My dad is kind of a handy man – he’s worked for SaskTel (a communications provider) for 30 years – and he built a Zamboni which worked just like a real one,” Raedeke said. “It was perfect. I spent a lot of time there.”

Griffiti4F.jpgNaturally, his father was a big influence from the very beginning. “Because he had played himself, he knew a lot about the game,” he said. “He’d give me a lot of tips about skating and shooting. He’d tell me a lot of little tricks.”

Although his father professed to be fleet of foot, Raedeke was not particularly fast as a youngster. “As I got older and started working out more, my legs got stronger and I got a little faster,” he said.

“I worked with ropes, ladders and boxes, plyometric exercises and, of course, I did a lot of skating. When I was on the ice, I was working on my edges, skating backwards and forward.”

If practice didn’t make him perfect, it did put him on the radar of scouts. As a teenager, he was rated the 106th best North American skater by NHL Central Scouting, the agency charged with analyzing the game’s top prospects.

But Raedeke’s name was not called during the 2008 NHL Entry Draft in Ottawa, Ontario. “I was at work and I kept refreshing the screen to see if I saw my name because I had talked to a couple of teams before the draft,” he said. “I gave up when I saw Detroit had made the last pick.”

Five minutes later, his phone rang. “It was (Red Wings assistant general manager) Jim Nill and he said, ‘Do you want to come to summer camp with us?’ I was like, ‘Yeah, for sure.’”

Raedeke was invited to participate in the Red Wings’ summer development camp in July 2008, which in turn earned him an offer to travel to Traverse City to take part in the annual prospects tournament and training camp.

He made a positive impression, so much so that the Red Wings signed him to a three-year entry level contract. “It all happened pretty fast,” he said.

As an 18-year-old, Raedeke was able to return to the WHL’s Edmonton Oil Kings for another season of junior hockey. He finished third in team scoring, then was assigned by the Red Wings to the Griffins on March 31, 2009, after his team was bumped from the playoffs.

“I was here for about a month and got to play in a couple of games, which was really cool,” he said. “I got to see how they do things in the pros, and I was able to take that knowledge back to juniors for my final season.”

He returned to the WHL for his third season with Edmonton, then was dealt to Brandon at midseason as the Wheat Kings were loading up to host the 2010 Memorial Cup.

“They say it’s the hardest trophy to win,” he said, pointing to the fact that the Cup is awarded following a round-robin tournament featuring the host team and the champions of the CHL’s three member leagues. Sixty teams are eligible to compete for the Memorial Cup, representing nine provinces and five American states.

“Brandon (Manitoba) is a small town compared to a lot of cities and everybody got behind us,” he said. “There were banners and signs in all the restaurants and the crowds were amazing. Obviously, the games were sold out and so loud.”

The Wheat Kings made it to the championship game but lost 9-1 to the Windsor Spitfires, who claimed their second straight Memorial Cup. “It was still fun and a good experience,” he said.

A fairly consistent scorer in junior hockey, Raedeke has had to fall back on the fundamentals of his game in the professional ranks. Even so, he’s seen a fair amount of minutes for a rookie this season.

“This is a very difficult league and it takes some time for a young player to find his step, but Brent is right on track,” Griffins head coach Curt Fraser said. “He’s a very good young player with lots of upside.”

For his part, Raedeke is content to keep his nose to the proverbial grindstone. “That’s how I’ve always played – work hard, be solid at both ends of the ice, try to make plays when they’re there, but if they’re not, be smart,” he said.

Raedeke admits that it has been an adjustment. “You always want to contribute where you can, but I’m just trying to keep the puck out of my net, so I’m thinking pass first instead of shooting,” he said.

He is thankful for the ice time that he’s received. “It feels good to know that the coaches have had the confidence in me to dress me a lot,” he said. “When they put you out on the penalty kill or the last minute of periods, it gives you confidence that they trust you.”

At the same time, he has endured the anxiousness associated with being a healthy scratch.

“You’ve got to pay your dues and bide your time,” he continued. “The Red Wings want guys to play in the minors for two or three years before they call them up. I think it’s better that way, because you’ll be ready to make a difference.”

It’s the mental side of the game – playing smarter, not harder – where he will need to show improvement, but he knows it’s a process. “It’s about being patient, knowing when to pass, go to the net, to be in the right spots to create offense.”

Away from the rink, Raedeke clears his mind by playing guitar, an interest he shares with roommate Brian Lashoff. He bought an electric Gibson guitar and amp at the start of the season.

“If I hear a song I like, I’ll go on the Internet and try to find the chords to it,” said Raedeke, who likes both rock and country, from Keith Urban and Brad Paisley to Jack Johnson and the Goo Goo Dolls. “It’s relaxing, and it’s cool to learn the same songs played by bands you like.”

He’d love to put together a band that could jam after practice, but he knows it’s probably a pipe dream. “We need to find a drummer,” he says with a chuckle.

His father is making sure that he stays on the right path. “He sends me texts almost every day,” he said. “Most of the time they’re helpful, but some of it is repetitive. And true. I think a lot about everything he says.”

Raedeke is smart enough to know one thing: father knows best.

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