In a polarized, cynical world full of social media ignoramuses and phonies in general, 33-year-old lefty defenceman Brad Hunt of the Vancouver Canucks is an otherworldly departure. A throw back to a simpler, happier time. Think of Wally Cleaver only with more energy.
Since that “Leave it to Beaver” TV show reference predates a great majority of us, just think of the happiest, friendliest person you know and times them by ten.
“I was always a happy-go-lucky kid, you know?” Hunt states. “And I love hockey so much that it’s not a burden for me to come here. And yeah, my parents, they’re happy-go-lucky people that wake up in a good mood every morning. Like, nothing really bothers us. It’s like, have fun and play the game that I love.”
It’s simple chemistry that’s working for the Maple Ridge native and it puts a smile on people’s faces, like those of his teammates.
“The first day I showed up to training camp here and he came up to me and gave me a big hug and a ‘hey, Schenner, how you doing?’ and I’m thinking, ‘where did I play with this guy? How do I know him?’ and it was the first time I ever met him,” explains a smiling Luke Schenn. “You get 25 fist pumps a day from him saying ‘good job’ or whatever. He’s a positive guy to be around, we love having him and he’s playing really good right now, too.”
He is indeed, better than some observers probably expected, but then again, it’s a cumulative, positive effect for a player. Play, gain confidence, play more, gain more confidence and the game comes naturally.
“If you’re not playing every day you’re coming to the rink thinking ‘am I playing, am I not playing today'”, Hunt explains. “The next step is I got to make sure I’m prepared to play and then you’re thinking ‘okay, well, in this position, how are we going to make this play’ and then you’re just thinking way too much and then you become more of a robot. Whereas when you’re playing lots, you’re not thinking, you’re just coming to the rink as it’s any other day.
“And like I said, you’re a kid, you’re just going out there, you’re so excited to play,” Hunt concludes.
Hunt has played exactly half of the Vancouver Canucks games this season, 31 of 62, including the last eleven in a row with some time on the second power play unit. During that stretch he banged out a consecutive four-game point streak with a goal and three assists.
“Ha ha, I was actually aware of that because everybody in there (his teammates) wouldn’t let me forget about it,” Hunt said before quickly changing the subject to how much he enjoys and appreciates playing with his right-side defensive counterparts Travis Hamonic and Schenn.
Up to eleven points on the season, Hunt is one of only three active left-shot defencemen on the Canucks NHL roster. It’s advantageous. He’s accumulated 222 career NHL games played from his start in 2013-’14 with 21 games over three seasons with the Edmonton Oilers, nine in a season with the St. Louis Blues, a cup of coffee with the Nashville Predators, then 58 games with the Vegas Golden Knights and 100 more with the Minnesota Wild before landing home.
“His attitude has been the same no matter what,” stated Vancouver Canucks Head Coach Bruce Boudreau on Wednesday. “I sat him out twenty games in a row in Minnesota and he’d still say “Hi Bruce!” every morning. I mean, there’s never a bad day for Brad.”
The two spent almost two full seasons working together in St. Paul. A decade prior to that, in that same US state of Minnesota, Hunt attended four years of college and played hockey on a scholarship at Bemidji State. It’s where he met his wife Katie. The two have an almost-three-year-old son named Colby who’s just finding his way on to skates.
“Oh yeah, we get him out here on the ice sometimes,” Hunt says. “He’s still unsure about it, but it’s so fun, he loves coming here and he sings “Oh Canada” all the time, that’s like his hockey song. It’s so fun and it’s so special to be able to see him here in Vancouver and watching warm-ups with his Vancouver Canucks stuff on, it’s something that I’m never going to forget and I hope he doesn’t either.”
Hunt cherishes the opportunity to play in front of friends and family whom he thanks wholeheartedly – Maple Ridge coaches, teammates, teachers, among others – for helping him get to where he is today.
In a happy place.
“He’s awesome to be around,” Schenn says. “Everyday, so much positive energy.”
There’s no reason to wax poetic to a close, as Hunt does a better job than anyone else of summing things up.
“I love hockey so much that I’m not going to let something, like me not playing, ruin the experience for me,” Hunt said. “And I feel like I need to be there for my teammates no matter what. I think that’s how a team is built, how you show up to the rink no matter what position you’re in, you’re here for your teammates, you’re in a good mood, we get to play hockey and there’s nothing really we should be upset about.”