Blast from the Past – Brad CruikshankPosted: 16/08/2011
Dateline: Summer 2005. Mark Bernard in his role as General Manager/Coach/Candlestick maker was making signings for the 2005/06 season, the first after the NHL lockout that had seen the likes of Wade Belak end up as an EIHL all star. That season saw 2 players come to Basingstoke who would leave their mark on Bison hockey history.
One was Greg Chambers, a sniping forward who would tear up the points charts. Chambers had the eye for goal that could not be beaten and in his time in British hockey has scored wherever he’s gone. He’ll be reappearing next year with your “friends” and mine from Surrey.
The other was a rough and tough character signed to be the muscle for the team. Coming to Britain with only one season with under 200 PIMs, Brad Cruikshank appeared to have been signed for one reason only. Little did anyone know just how quickly he’d be taken to the hearts of Bison fans and ultimately wherever he played in Britain not just for his punching ability but also his scoring and his leadership.
From his home in Lloydminster, Alberta, Brad took a few minutes to answer questions about his career, the famous Blaze vs Panthers brawl and just why he owns so few golf clubs.
PLEASE NOTE: Some of Brad’s answers have been cleaned up for spelling and grammar purposes but are otherwise unedited.
You were born in Kelowna, British Columbia about 2 hours drive from the US border. What was it like growing up in Western Canada?
Kelowna was an awesome place to grow up, I spent a ton of time on the Okanagan lake swimming, fishing, and water skiing. The winter was just as fun as the summers there, we literally had hundreds of lakes and ponds to choose from during the winter to go skating on and my family always had season passes to Big White which is a really nice ski hill just outside Kelowna.
What age did you first play competitive hockey and how much of a part did it play in your life as a child/teenager?
I started playing hockey on a team when I was 4 or 5. Hockey has been apart of my life since day one really, you basically don’t have a choice over here, it starts with a pair of hockey pyjamas and before you know it you’ve played for nearly 30 years and got to travel all over the world doing it for a living!! Wow I suddenly feel really old sitting here reading over that answer.
Stats sites list your début in the Western Hockey League (WHL) as coming in the 1996-97 season but you are only recorded as playing 19 games in 2 seasons at WHL level. Was this as a result of injury or were you mainly playing in Junior A?
I was mainly playing Jr A during those years for the Calgary Royals. I was traded twice in the WHL and figured that I would end up in the same place (ECHL) no matter where I played Jr so I just went home to play.
You turned pro in 1999 in the ECHL with Toledo (alongside a few players who you would later play in Britain with) but again, how come you only made so few appearances?
I went to Toledo when my Jr season was over, there was only a month left in the season for Toledo as they were mathematically in October when the season started (HAHA).
You finally made a real break in the pro game in the CHL with Fayetteville during their final year of operations. What was it like for someone from Western Canada to find themselves playing hockey in North Carolina?
It was very different down there, but the people were extremely friendly and very laid back. Although most people didn’t know what hockey was we still pulled in nearly 4000-5000 a night. The first school visit I ever did was there and when we walked out on the stage there were 1000 kids booing us cause they had no clue who we were, that sucked but man did it make for a funny story, the guy who did visit with me had a BA in communications from an IVY league school and even he froze up, I couldn’t stop laughing for about a month!!!!!!!!
That year was also your career year for penalty minutes. Care to hazard a guess at your final total?
Way too many!! That was by far the toughest league I ever played in. (Actual answer is 302 PIMs)
After the Force folded, you took your talents even further south to Pensacola, Florida to play for the Ice Pilots. Todd Gordon who had been your coach in Fayetteville had just become the head coach there, how instrumental was he in getting you that job?
He told me in the year 1 on 1’s that he had the job in Pensacola and that he wanted me to come with him, I knew the guys there lived on an island so I said “where do I sign?”
You spent 3 seasons with the Ice Pilots, what were some of the highs and lows of playing for the organisation?
There weren’t many lows playing there, other then getting knocked out in the first round 3 years running because our teams couldn’t stay out of the bar. It was spring break during the playoffs and our island was 1 giant party!! Not a wise decision to put 20 hockey players in the middle of “girls gone wild”.
For the 2004/05 season you moved north to join to near Detroit to join the Motor City Mechanics of the UHL. The NHL lockout came around and you ended up playing alongside NHL legend Chris Chelios as well as others like Bryan Smolinski, Derian Hatcher and Sean Avery. How was that season for you?
Detroit was a little intimidating it was a tough city with lots of places to stay away from, but at the same time had some great things about it. Playing with the NHL guys was great fun, they really took care of us off the ice as they all owned restaurants and things and boy could they play good hockey.
After that season in Michigan came the opportunity to come to Britain and the Bison, how did that come about?
(Former Bison) Ryan O’Keefe called me during the summer and got me in touch with Bernie. The rest is history.
What were your first impressions of Basingstoke and the rink when you got here?
Wow it’s cold and old… But as people know I came to love that rink more then any other I played in during my 12 years, I’m not sure why but I just loved that rink.
Any real memories of your first season in Basingstoke that stand out?
Bernie cleaning the ice for practice with the zamboni in his goalie gear and when Chubbs first discovered Kebabs.
After your first season you’d been re-signed then Mark Bernard left for the AHL and was replaced by Doug Sheppard. That season saw you score over 20 goals for the first time and the formation of the prolific Cruikshank-Owen-Chambers line, was it a conscious change on your part to change your game or did Doug ask you to change?
No it was my choice, I worked really hard that summer and my body was taking a good beating from all the scraps over the years in North America, it takes a toll on the shoulders when your 5”10”.
The 2007-08 season of “The Bison 10” started with such promise with new owners but quickly descended into chaos . In spite of that the Shanker-Owie-Chubbs line still banged in the goals and you had a career year in points. What was that season like to play in?
I cant even start to tell you how crazy that was, so much happened that season good and bad but you know what we still found a way to enjoy ourselves and have fun on the ice and I think that’s what brought us and the fans closer together more then ever.
The feeling was quickly replicated in 2008-09 with the end of the Enerston era and you finally deciding to leave Basingstoke for Sheffield; how hard a decision was it to leave?
By far the toughest decision of my career. It was a really sad time for me and the family for the first bit.
A question a lot of people asked was how did it feel to step on Bison ice for the first time as a Steeler?
It was hard but it turned out to be a really fun game that night, plus my Mom was there and she won the draw (raffle) for my picture.
Whilst the season started badly it ultimately ended with the Steelers winning the league and playoffs. How did it feel to win your first pro trophies?
Awesome, that’s what we work for our whole life and it finally happened.
After helping the Steelers win two trophies, you were brought back only and went to the Continental Cup only to be released midway through your second season. Why was that?
Last one in first one out!!! I didn’t play great but I didn’t play that bad, but that’s the business side of it I guess.
You once again landed on your feet as Paul Thompson reunited “The Bison Line” at Coventry and you won the league title for the second season in a row. Was it better the second time?
No, it wasn’t the same as I had only been there for just over a month when we won it, but it was still a great feeling and I enjoyed it.
Last season in Coventry was a bit of a disappointment for the club, care to venture a reason why?
The main reason we didn’t succeed was US, the players.
Not so much a question but it’d be interesting to hear your thoughts on this in hindsight; so you’re being led off the ice by the linesman and then start skating at Craig Kowalski…finish the story.
Haha I knew this was coming, basically I thought “why not?” Thommo had told us not to do anything and let the ref handle it, but once I got chucked for given Levers the wanker signal I just did it. The thing that made me feel real bad was that Leezy (Brian Lee) and Robo (Jason Robinson) among others had to do all the real fighting that I had started and I never intended for K-wall to get hurt either. It’s one of those things where it may have been necessary but it came with heavy consequences and effectively wrecked my season as I could never get going after that, not that I was really going anyways.
Bison-Matt asks: Had the Bison been more financially secure would you have stayed during the losing run towards the end of the 2008/09 season?
Hey Matt I appreciate the question and the answer is… WITHOUT A DOUBT I would have stayed for a long time, but when you have a young family being out of pocket at work isn’t an option. Cheers Matt
Darrencard asks: What plans do you have for the upcoming season?
Hey Darren, I’m going to play AAA Senior hockey in Lloydminster Alberta where I’m working full-time for Hunting Energy Services. Cheers Darren
Philtheleaf31 asks: Who are the 3 toughest guys you have ever fought?
Hi Phil, probably Roger Maxwell, Fraser Filipic in JR A and Jeremy Cornish. Cheers Phil
PJBlaze asks: Is being a tough guy something that happened naturally or is it something you developed to maybe make up for other areas where you were not as good?
Hey PJ, I got sucked into it early in JR by one of my coaches as the first few times I fought I surprised a few people and after that I was stuck, I think it’s a good edge to have as a small guys but if you get stuck in doing it all the time it can be a long trip. As everyone can see by my fight totals they dropped off a lot, I just couldn’t do it after 3 shoulder surgeries. Cheers PJ
TracyG asks: How is ‘Lil Shanker’ getting on with his hockey and dropping his gloves?
Hi there Tracy, Haha man that kid cracks me up, he’s doing awesome, this year he is old enough to play on his own team so he is extremely excited, he talks about it every single day!! I just have to make sure he’s scoring goals and not dropping the gloves haha!! He shoots pucks everyday in the basement cause he says “I’m getting ready for the new hockey season dad” and “don’t worry mommy and daddy I will give you tickets to my games” HAHAHA! Thanks Tracy
Mr P West of Basingstoke asks: Why have you only got 4 clubs in his golf bag?
HAHAHA!!! I may as well fill everybody in on this lovely question. A few years back in the Stoke I went golfing with my brother in law at…somewhere in the Stoke anyways and I had been going through a rough patch in my golf career so got a tiny bit frustrated and decided to through every club that I made a bad shot with into the ponds or deep in the woods.
Lastly, any message for the Bison fans as a sign off?
I know that someday I will return to the Stoke for some kind of an event (I hope anyway) and cant wait to catch up!! Thanks for all the memories and know that you all have a special place in my families heart.