A few years ago, Adam Brooks was sitting at the end of the bench, wondering if he had what it took to succeed in major junior hockey.
Back-to-back 100-point seasons, a couple of all-star selections and a realistic shot at a league championship has led him to his answer.
Brooks went unnoticed by scouts and was overlooked in his first two years of NHL draft eligibility. But now at age 20, he’s leading the top-ranked Regina Pats into the Western Hockey League playoffs.
After breaking out and leading the WHL in scoring in 2015-16 with 120 points in 72 games, Brooks returned this season and put up 130 points in 66 games. He would have won his second straight scoring title if it wasn’t for teammate Sam Steel, who finished the year with 131 points in 66 games.
“It goes back to (coach) John Paddock and (assistant) Dave Struch, those guys coming in and putting faith in me, allowing me to be the player I thought I was the whole time and ultimately I think I showed I am,” said Brooks, who serves as team captain.
“Obviously when you’re 16 and 17 you maybe get down on yourself too easy, but they came in they gave me another shot and some hope that I could do something special in this league.”
Brooks, a Winnipeg native, had just eight goals and 23 points in 115 games in his first two years with Regina. He referred to his role back then as a “fourth-line, energy type of guy.”
But things started changing when Paddock took over coaching duties to start the 2014-15 season. Brooks was able to come into training camp with a clean slate and at the trade deadline Paddock shipped out some of the veterans to restock for the future.
That gave Brooks the opportunity he was waiting for.
“Once those (older) guys left I was looked to be relied on and it was so crazy because the first little bit as a support guy you’re just looking to stay positive on the bench, and then you have to be ready every night and how you play matters,” said Brooks.
“He knew before that we had confidence in him and when he started playing in the offensive situations he started to blossom,” added Paddock.
Brooks had a 30-goal season that year and hoped he improved enough to be selected in his second year of NHL draft eligibility. But his name was never called.
NHL clubs finally took notice after last season’s 120-point campaign, with the Maple Leafs selecting him 92nd overall in 2016.
“After my first two years being passed over, I didn’t think I’d be drafted,” said Brooks. “My 18-year-old year I thought maybe a team would see the improvements and take a chance, it was a little disheartening to see nothing happen. Going into my 19-year-old year I wanted to go out and prove that I could play professional hockey one day and show people it wasn’t just a fluke that I made improvements.
“I guess putting up 120 points caught some teams’ eyes and I was super thankful to be drafted by Toronto.”
Brooks, with four years under his belt, returned to junior this year as an overage player for a fifth and final season instead of turning pro with the Maple Leafs’ minor league system.
It couldn’t have worked out any better for him and the Pats.
Regina (52-12-9) set a franchise record for wins and is a favourite to win its first WHL championship since 1980.
On Wednesday, Brooks and Steel, as well as Regina defencemen Connor Hobbs and Sergey Zborovskiy were all named Eastern Conference all stars. Paddock was named East coach of the year.
The Pats are riding an eight-game win streak and open the playoffs Friday night against the No. 8 Calgary Hitmen.
“I think just based on the way the season went, the records that we’ve broken within the organization and all the fun, we’re on a high,” said Brooks. “We just want to keep the success rolling into the playoffs.”
Moose Jaw plays Swift Current, Medicine Hat opens against Brandon and Red Deer faces Lethbridge to round out the series in the East. Prince George plays Portland, Kelowna battles Kamloops, Everett is against Victoria and Seattle plays Tri-City in the West.
Kyle Cicerella, The Canadian Press