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Mr. Reliable

02/15/2002 2:01 PM - Brian Chapman has been a steadying force on the blueline for the Manitoba Moose over the past five seasons.

Story and photos by Mark Newman

Nobody will ever confuse Brian Chapman for Clark Kent, let alone Superman.

He does not leap buildings in a single bound, nor is he faster than a speeding bullet. Although he lacks any superhuman skills, the Manitoba Moose captain is the kind of player that most teams wish they had on their side.

He is like kryptonite to opponents, the mysterious marvel who manages to get under your skin, the unsuspecting underdog who wears you down long before you know what hit you.

“I just try to do the same thing every night,” he says, downplaying his importance on the ice. “I’m not the guy who’s going to go out and get 50 points in a season, but hopefully I can play good defense and be a steadying influence on the blueline.”

Chapman has been nothing less than rock solid since coming to Winnipeg five seasons ago. He has played in an average of nearly 81 games per season and last year was recognized with the IHL’s Ironman Award as the league’s top two-way player who plays in all 82 games.

It’s no surprise that Chapman, who turned 34 on Feb. 10, recently reached a personal milestone when he played in his 1,000th professional regular season game. He calls it a “dubious distinction” that all but three of those games have come in the minors.

He claims no secret for his longevity other than he has been lucky. No man of steel, he has nevertheless remained relatively healthy during a 14-year career that took him to Binghamton and Springfield in the AHL and Phoenix and Long Beach in the IHL before joining the Moose.

“I’ve never had any real injuries,” Chapman says. “I’ve had a few bumps and bruises here and there, but nothing that’s ever kept me out of the lineup for any longer than five or six games at a time.

“Yeah, I’ve had my share of aches and pains, but it’s something you learn to play through if you want to stay in the lineup. I always say there’s a difference between pain and injury.”

Chapman has been Mr. Reliable for the Moose, playing a role in Winnipeg that is amazingly similar to the one played by Griffins captain Travis Richards in Grand Rapids.

Fixtures in their respective AHL cities, both have enjoyed long minor league careers after appearing in three NHL games apiece: Chapman with Hartford, Richards with Dallas.

This past fall saw both attend their first NHL camp in several seasons: Chapman with Vancouver, Richards with Ottawa. Both anchor their team’s defensive corps. Both are captains.

The comparison is not lost on Chapman. “I’ve always been interested in watching Travis play,” he says. “I know his brother Todd really well because

I played with him years ago in Springfield.

“Travis is a real solid player, the kind of player I want to be for our team.”

Chapman does not take his duties as captain lightly. “I take it on myself to be a leader, but not really in a rah-rah sort of way,” he says. “I try to lead by example by coming to work every day and doing all the right things. Hopefully, it rubs off on some of the younger guys.”

Apparently, his work ethic has not been lost on the young prospects of the Vancouver Canucks with whom Chapman is playing this season. Moose assistant coach Scott Arniel, who was captain of the Manitoba team before retiring, has been impressed by his former teammate.

 ”He's a great example for all these young guys about how to play, how to carry yourself and approach every game and every practice,” Arniel told the Winnipeg Sun. “It's not so much what Chappy says, it's more of the way he acts. He's a guy that plays and puts it on the line every night.

“He's a hard-nosed guy that plays the same way every game. He plays with an edge, he hacks and whacks in front of the net and makes it real difficult on you. And in the neutral zone, he can lower the boom on you.”

While Chapman still enjoys playing a physical game, he is not as quick to drop the gloves as he once was. He had four consecutive seasons with 200-plus penalty minutes during the early 1990s and he wracked up 29 PIMs in three games during his only NHL stint.

“I used to be a little more physical than I am now,” he says. “During my early years, it was a case where everybody had to fight and as a young guy, it was one of those things you did to get noticed and establish yourself.”

But the game has changed — fighting is usually done only by a team’s enforcer -- and Chapman has changed along with it. He has learned that if you want your body is going to take a pounding season after season, you better pay attention to it year-round.

“A lot of guys used to really let themselves slide during the summertime, then used training camp to get themselves going again. You can’t do that anymore,” he says. “Now guys work to keep themselves in top physical condition 12 months a year.”

Chapman says he felt “pretty comfortable” when he went to training camp this fall with Vancouver, his first NHL camp in several years. “I looked at it as an opportunity to get myself jump-started for the season. It was a chance to maybe get my legs under me a little bit more than usual.”

Ironically, he hurt himself doing the specialized exercises recommended by the Canucks. “I must have twisted something wrong and my back went out on me,” he recalls. “I was laying on the floor for about a week and a half. I couldn’t get in bed or anything.”

His back eventually settled down and he has hardly missed a game since the start of the regular season, which is important when you’re trying to set an example for the younger players.

“Young guys are excited to just be playing, but there’s a lot more to being a professional hockey player,” Chapman says. “You’ve got to take care of yourself and you’ve got to make sure you’re mentally ready to play every night.”

A product of Brockville, Ontario, Chapman has been happy playing in Winnipeg, where he has been on year-to-year contracts since coming to the Moose from Long Beach after four seasons in Phoenix.

“Being from Ontario, I had heard all the horror stories about how cold it was and this and that, but it was nothing like I expected,” he says. “I was pleasantly surprised. For one thing, it’s a lot larger city than I thought, close to a million people live there.

“I was a little bit skeptical when I first got traded there because I had never been to Winnipeg, but it’s worked out really well.”

During the season, he rents a house there from former Griffins defenseman Shane Hnidy. He makes his off-season home in Springfield, Mass., where he owns a condo. He has no intention of retiring there any time soon. He may have played his 1,000th game, but he’d play another 1,000 if he could.

“I want to keep on playing as long as I can obviously,” he says. “If I can contribute at a high level -- which I think I’ve still been doing this season -- hopefully somebody will want me as part of their organization.”

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