paNOW takes a look at the team leaders on the Prince Albert Raiders. This week, it's captain Brayden Pachal.
Brayden Pachal technically grew up in his family home in Estevan, but if you ask his parents Kent and Rhonda, he may have spent more time on the ice than anywhere else.
“We had an outdoor rink in our backyard, so from about the age of two to seven, he would be out there every day skating,” Brayden’s mother Rhonda said.
Pachal would come home from school during the winter months and head straight out to the backyard rink, until it became apparent that his skill set had outgrown their facility. By the age of seven, the pucks were starting to fly toward the house and into neighbours’ yards, forcing Kent and Rhonda to disassemble the rink and take Brayden to the outdoor rink down the block.
Brayden and Kent took on the caretaker role of the community rink, ensuring it was up to par for anybody who wanted to play. However, they both knew who would end up getting the most use out of it anyway.
The Pachals recall a day when the wind chill was well below minus 30, but Brayden refused to stay inside, dragging his dad to the rink to skate.
“I remember going up to Brayden every ten minutes and saying ‘OK, that’ll be enough, that’s good,’ and he’d say ‘no, no, no, we’re not going yet!’ I froze the tips of my ears that were sticking out of my toque, and my face was frozen,” Kent said.
“I don’t know how that didn’t happen to him, maybe it was youth, but that was incredible. It was minus 30 with a huge windchill and we were out there for over an hour, but he was like that. It was crazy.”
Growing up in Yorkton, Kent recalls many days spent on the outdoor rink or on the streets playing hockey during the summer. Kent would go on to play Junior A hockey himself, following the footsteps of Brayden’s grandfather Vern, a star in his own day with the Crow’s Nest Pass Lions of the Western Canadian Junior Hockey League, and then with the Springfield Indians of the Eastern Hockey League under head coach Eddie Shore. Vern led the team in Springfield with back-to-back 50-goal seasons.
While Kent saw the similarities between himself and Brayden in their childhoods, he acknowledged that the entertainment options for the two generations were not the same.
Despite the interest many of his friends had in video games and television, Brayden typically wanted to do just one thing.
“For whatever reason, he was different than the other kids that way. There were many days where he was on the outdoor rink all by himself and all his buddies were doing something else,” said Kent.
Not only was Pachal a throwback during his childhood, opting for sticks and pucks over controllers and keyboards, but he’s also a throwback in the way he plays the game. Currently sitting among the top 15 WHL defenders in points this season as a member of the Raiders, he also brings a physical edge to his game and a willingness to go to the tough areas. Along with alternate captains Sean Montgomery, Parker Kelly, and Zack Hayes, he helps to set the tone for what it takes to win.
“When there are young guys coming in, and they’re growing up [focusing] on skill, to win in this league you’ve got to have everything,” Brayden said. “You’ve got to have grit and a willingness to block shots. For the young guys, and even the older guys, to see the leadership group doing that night in and night out … that’s a big part of our culture.”
A fourth-year veteran in the WHL now, it was a different team that gave Pachal his first look behind the scenes of junior hockey.
Growing up in Estevan, Brayden had the opportunity to take on the role of stick boy with the SJHL Bruins, a position he held for almost five years.
“He loved that, and he could hardly wait to get to the rink,” Kent said, explaining that his son likely would’ve carried that job several years longer had his own hockey schedule not gotten so busy.
The part Brayden seemed to enjoy more than anything, according to his father, was the pregame routine as the players began to get wound up for the game and the energy levels increased. Conversely, that was the part his mother had some reservations about.
“The only thing I didn’t like about [the pregame routine] was the swear words he heard,” Rhonda said.
As he made the jump to his own junior hockey career, Rhonda had to grapple with another element that she wasn’t comfortable with.
Moving up from the Moose Jaw Midget AAA Generals to the WHL’s Victoria Royals at 16 years old, his mother continued to hold fast that there would be no fighting in hockey for him.
“I said to him, if I catch you fighting, I’ll jump over the glass and I’ll pull you off the ice myself,” Rhonda explained.
When the Royals made their trip to Saskatchewan in Brayden’s first season, he had a large contingent of former teammates, family, and friends in the building in Moose Jaw as they took on the Warriors. With all those familiar faces in attendance, Pachal dropped the mitts with forward Blake Bargar for his first career fight.
“I’m sitting up at the top of the rink, not with the rest of my family, because my mom was in a wheelchair,” Rhonda recalled. “Brayden drops his gloves, and I’ve got my camera and I’m taking pictures. All my family down near the ice surface turned around to look at me because they wanted to see what I was doing.”
While Brayden was scrapping on the ice, his father was among those that were turned around to see how Rhonda would react.
“It was awesome. She had her mouth and her eyes wide open, and we all just looked to see how she’d react. It was hilarious,” Kent said.
For whatever reason, Rhonda’s reaction was to continue taking pictures to capture the moment, but she admits she was eager to see him after the game to make sure he was ok rather than to scold him for his actions.
During that rookie season, Pachal played in the minimum 40 games for a 16-year-old and found himself in and out of the Royals lineup the next year as well. Although he loved the city, the organization, and playing for his coach Dave Lowry, Pachal expressed a desire to go somewhere else where he would receive a better opportunity, which is what he got in Prince Albert.
Kent remembers a game in Regina when Brayden first joined the Raiders, where the high-flying Pats came back from a 4-0 deficit and forced overtime tied up at 6-6.
Pachal was on the ice when Pats forward Adam Brooks sealed the game with the overtime winner after tying the contest with just seconds remaining in regulation.
“He came to the bench and he was mad and almost broke his stick and he was carrying on, and Dave Manson came and sat him down and said, ‘what’s the matter, Pachal?’ And Brayden said, ‘I hate losing.’ Dave said ‘you know what? That’s a great attribute to have, but we want you to not be worried about making mistakes,” Kent said.
“We know you can play, and we want you to just go out there and play.’ From that point on, something clicked, and I give Dave Manson a lot of credit, because that was it. That’s what did it for him.”
As for Brayden himself, he said he wanted to come to Prince Albert from Victoria because there would be an opportunity to take on a greater role.
After a rough first half of the season, that year’s team made a late-season push thanks to midseason reinforcements like Pachal, Max Martin, Jordy Stallard, and Curtis Miske. While the goal of making playoffs wasn’t achieved, the beginning of a winning culture was building.
Aside from Pachal, seven players that were on that team remain with the Raiders and have been instrumental in building the number one team in the country.
“The biggest thing coming in is Marc [Habscheid] is a guy that likes his players in the room and likes to have a relationship with all his players,” Pachal said. “The coaching staff and players being one big family here definitely brings our team closer.”
It’s clear that Pachal now embodies much of what it means to be a Raider, as the coaching staff has entrusted him with the captaincy this season. His parents insist that he’s always come by his lunch bucket mentality on his own, but Brayden acknowledges that they showed him the value of hard work.
“They were never the type to just give me $20 because I asked for it. They always made me work for things, just little things like chores and stuff like that,” Pachal said. “They rewarded me for hard work, and I think that’s helped get me where I am today.”
With the wind chill plummeting below minus 30 in Prince Albert this week, Pachal will be feeling right at home as the Raiders get set for a pair of home games this weekend after a two-week trip through BC.
Prince Albert will roll out the welcome mat for the Edmonton Oil Kings on Friday, and the Moose Jaw Warriors on Saturday, with both games at the Art Hauser Centre.
On Twitter: @Trevor_Redden
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