Alex DeBrincat has never lacked motivation through his young hockey career – his size or lack thereof has often been highlighted for why the pint sized forward wouldn’t have success in the game. However, when he was left off USA’s 2017 World Junior team, it provided a wake-up call for DeBrincat.
The Farmington Hills, Michigan native was a member of the Americans at the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship scoring a goal in five games as the U.S. took home a bronze medal at the Under-20 tournament. When the 2017 roster was announced, the 19-year-old’s name was noticeably absent. The Americans ended up winning gold.
“Obviously you never want that to happen so I think that kind of showed me that my game does have some flaws in it and I just need to keep working,” said DeBrincat. “You’re not going to make every team. I kind of just went back to junior hoping they would regret it and I could show them that I should’ve been on that team.”
With the added motivation of the world junior snub, DeBrincat had a record-breaking season with the Ontario Hockey League’s Erie Otters.
DeBrincat scored 65 goals and 127 points in 68 games with the Otters becoming just the second player in league history to reach the 50-goal mark in three consecutive seasons and surpassed Rob Schremp as the OHL’s all-time American-born goal-scoring leader. DeBrincat’s 157 goals in 191 games with the Otters is a franchise-best.
For his outstanding season DeBrincat was named the Canadian Hockey League’s player of the year and was the recipient of the Red Tilson trophy as the OHL’s most outstanding player.
DeBrincat is the third member of the Otters organization to win the Red Tilson award in the last four years joining Edmonton Oilers star Connor McDavid and Toronto Maple Leafs forward Connor Brown.
“It’s definitely cool,” he said. “Three in the past four years so it’s definitely a huge honour and it’s definitely a really cool trophy to be a part of. There’s a lot of NHLers and a lot of super stars on that trophy. It’s definitely humbling and an honour to be on that trophy.”
As a team, the Otters set a CHL record with a fourth straight 50-win season and advanced to the franchise’s second Memorial Cup losing in the final to the host Windsor Spitfires.
“You start the season wanting to win the OHL, and we did that,” said DeBrincat. “We made it to the last game of the CHL so I don’t know how down we can be, it’s obviously a tough loss, but we had a great year and I’m proud of every guy in that locker room and every guy on that team.
“There’s not much time to appreciate right after (winning) it, you go right to the Memorial Cup. Now it’s definitely time to appreciate it and realize what you’ve accomplished, it’s a great feeling. We had a really great season and I’m really happy with what we did this year.”
With three seasons of junior hockey behind him, the five-foot-seven, 170-pound forward is now focused on taking the next step in his hockey career in trying to make the Chicago Blackhawks roster for the 2017-18 NHL season.
“It’s something I want to do,” he said. “Obviously I planned to go into camp trying to make the team. Hopefully I stick, but if I don’t, I know they have a great coach and a good team in Rockford.”
For now it looks good for him. He made the NHL team at the first attempt, had three goals and four assists in 15 games with the Blackhawks.
“They definitely want me to get my speed up, the NHL is a fast game, obviously I need to get stronger and bigger, but everyone needs to do that,” DeBrincat said. “I think for me, it’s kind of getting my first few steps quicker, a quick stick and play my game, get to the front of the net and do the dirty work - that kind of thing.
“They want me to be able to hold onto the puck a little more than I did before and be able to fend off some defenders in the offensive zone.
“Obviously I want to take every opportunity that’s given to me,” DeBrincat said.