Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League

Sheldon Brookbank Joins Humboldt Broncos Camp, Reflects on Life in NHL’s Playoff Bubble

Former Humboldt Bronco and now Assistant Coach of the Chicago Blackhawks, Sheldon Brookbank, paid a visit to his old stomping grounds to lend a helping hand to the Broncos’ Extended Training Camp.

Brookbank joined the Broncos for the start of their camp, from September 4-6. His wealth of experience and hockey knowledge was gladly welcomed by Head Coach and GM, Scott Barney to provide an extra set of eyes as the Broncos set out to build their roster for the upcoming and undetermined 2020/2021 season.

“For us, I think it was important. We’ve seen a lot of these guys for the last two years and sometimes you get an opinion on a player where fresh eyes might see something different,” said Barney. “He’s an experienced guy. He’s played in the AHL and NHL, and now he’s coaching in the NHL. It’s always good to have a different set of eyes, so it was great to have him out here.”

Brookbank played for the Broncos for three seasons from 1998-2001, culminating with an SJHL Defenseman of the Year Award in the 2000/01 season. In the years following his journey through the SJHL, the Lanigan, SK native went on to play 367 games in the AHL and 351 games in the NHL. In 2012/13, Brookbank was a member of the Stanley Cup-winning Chicago Blackhawks.

“It brings back a lot of memories coming back in here (Elgar Petersen Arena). I had a lot of fun playing for the Broncos. It’s always great to see the rink again and see the team go through camp. I’m just happy to be able to help out the coaching staff and give them another set of eyes from the outside,” said Brookbank. “With coaching, it’s all about sharing ideas. When we talk, there are things that they do that maybe I haven’t seen before, and vice versa. It’s back and forth with different ideas, things you tried that worked, and things that haven’t quite worked. Hopefully, I’ll be around here a couple more times to get on the ice with these young guys too.”

Brookbank just returned from an experience that embodies the definition of uncharted territory. Brookbank, along with his Chicago Blackhawks, was one of 12 Western Conference NHL teams, and 24 altogether, thrust into protected bubbles to complete the 2020 NHL playoffs. Although life in the bubble is a drastic change from the ordinary, the mindset of playoff hockey and the goal of a Stanley Cup didn’t venture out of focus.

“It wasn’t bad at all. I think the NHL did a really good job and they had it set up really well. There were no complaints from anyone on our team. We were there to play hockey. You go to your hotel, you sleep, you eat, you go to the rink and play hockey, it’s playoff time. The league did a great job with how they presented the game and the atmosphere. Once the puck dropped there, it felt like a real playoff hockey game.”

Teams reported to the NHL’s Western Conference bubble in Edmonton, AB on July 26. The Blackhawks’ final game took place on August 18th, a 4-3 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 5 of the Quarter Finals. Talley it up, and you get 25 days spent isolated, away from family, with only one goal; the Stanley Cup. Many would expect so-called cabin fever to settle in the longer teams are isolated away from family, friends, and the rest of civilization as a whole. However, Brookbank reaffirmed that the way it was set up, and basically playing every second day, there wasn’t a lot of time during his stay to focus on what you didn’t have.

“I’m not sure we were there long enough to feel that. I think these other teams might start to feel that the farther they go though. As a coach, you always felt busy, so you didn’t have a lot of time to sit there and feel that. Of course, you miss your family, but you’re kind of always moving and planning. Like I said, as these teams go longer, it’s going to be harder for them, but I think their families are coming in now. Overall, it was a great experience,  but hopefully, we don’t have to do it again.”

The Broncos will continue with their training camp and await word on a regular-season start date. For Brookbank, life in the bubble was one that was forced upon him, and hopefully, one that won’t be a reoccurring circumstance. Meanwhile, life as a Bronco will always be close to home.