Gilbert Brule, during his last 33 games stint in the NHL with Phoenix in 2011-12, where he put up 14 points.

Gilbert Brule, during his last 33 games stint in the NHL with Phoenix in 2011-12, where he put up 14 points.

Personal issues affecting work performance is not a problem unique to professional sports. By a long shot. Some days the quality of my writing may suffer because of something in my personal life the same way Accountant Jim may get misplace a decimal because he started his car with his cat napping on the engine that morning. Life happens.

The only real reason it’s a bigger deal in professional sports (assuming Accountant Jim isn’t working on some crazy government account or something) is that 18,000 people are watching your performance a night to go along with the five or so important people in your organization who make the decisions about what to do with you on a daily basis. There’s no time to proofread your work and correct your mistakes.

I remember playing Gilbert Brule when he was 15 years old and playing for the Quesnel Millionaires. The only things he did better than me at the time (I was 18) was skate, shoot, hit and generally play hockey. You had to keep tabs on him at all times. He went from there to the Vancouver Giants to being taken 6th overall in the 2005 draft by Columbus. He was a star in the making.

Only, it never quite panned out. Brule scored 17 times to go with 20 assists in 65 games in 2009-10 as a 23 year old, then bottomed out. He played 14 games in Switzerland during the lockout, where he piled up a whopping zero goals and six assists…and now he can’t find an NHL job.

But one thing the average fan doesn’t know, is that Brule’s life behind the scenes wasn’t all peaches and cream, and it’s quite possible he’s finally finding himself on the right path just as NHL teams have given up on him.

Tony Gallagher of The Province wrote about what Brule went through, and why he believes he finds himself where he is in his career at the ripe old age of 26. Starting with his years in Edmonton:

Brule was depressed about his fractured relationship with his father, Chris Brule — a man who, until recently, had been heavily involved in his son’s career, even long before he became a star with the Giants.

The medications Gilbert was on seemed to exacerbate the problem.

Brule was prescribed meds after the below issues started to take over his life:

Brule says he entrusted his father with the care of the money he had worked so hard for, with the understanding that he was building a company for him.

Instead, he says his dad was doing something else with the money, something that ended poorly.

“Basically, he was taking money from me,” Brule said last week before one of his rigorous workouts aimed at getting his hockey career back on track, as the 26-year-old, free-agent centre is looking for a tryout with an NHL team this fall.

Brule went so far as to say there were threats of blackmail from his father who was after more money. Distracting times, to say the least.

Since then, Brule and his father have all but cut ties, save for a few emails. He’s seen therapists and gotten off the meds that he feels he was rushed on to get back to hockey as soon as he could. He’s back with his old trainer (and says his body fat is down to eight percent from 13, while his cardio capacity is better than ever), and the talented forward is hoping to get a shot to prove he can still be a valuable NHL center.

I can’t speak to the specific difficulties Brule went through, or just how much they affected his play on the ice, but if he was in fact going through some personal issues, man, can it be hard to focus on hockey, let alone care about it the game at all.

In my personal experience, one year of my life in my early 20s was basically a write-off. It was just…awful. That was my junior season at the University of Alaska Anchorage, which ended up being hell from basically the moment I touched down in Alaska after summer. I was coming off a solid sophomore season where I tied for the team lead in goals, and everyone had high hopes for the numbers I would put up that junior year.


Yeah not so much.

That particular year I couldn’t wait for practice to be over, where the previous seasons I’d stay out with my roommates, work on one-timers and just generally mess around on the ice. The end of a relationship for me meant less focus on the type of training that’s valuable for hockey, and more on the type that helps you fill out a t-shirt well. I “wanted” to have success on the ice, but it was definitely a backburner issue for me that year.

That summer, I turned my focus back to hockey (time heals all wounds, as they say), and my senior year went considerably better.

For Brule, you hope he’s at that point too. You hope that he’s found away to deal with the issues that were affecting his life off the ice, and you hope another NHL team gives him a chance.

Pro hockey is littered with players whose circumstances took them out of a position to succeed, which is why the human element of scouting and GM work can be so important too. It ain’t just stats and size that go into decisions (Brule actually mentions that the Canucks passed on him because of his father in the past). If a team reaches out to Brule and gives him the league minimum, who knows how much bang for their buck they could get? Hell, even a two-way would be worth a shot. A second chance for a guy like Brule could end up benefiting both parties.

(S/t to Kukla’s Korner)


A little addendum here:  I was a little concerned with the amount of blame doled out by Brule in some of those quotes in Gallagher’s article, but it’s impossible to know just what was really happening in his personal life at the time, and currently. This is what I mean when I say the human element of pro and amateur scouting is so important. Players are people too, so it’s not impossible to see why the highly acclaimed “good guy” factor is so coveted by teams. Like in most workplaces, people with simpler lives are often preferred.