Victoria Royals fans can thank the 2001 Colorado Avalanche for inspiring Brandon Fushimi to pick up a hockey stick.
The Fushimi family of Thornton, Col., followed the glory years of the Denver-based Avalanche, led by the legendary play of Joe Sakic as the team won the 2001 Stanley Cup championship.
If it wasn’t for the Avs, little Fushimi might have followed the more traditional route of basketball and football, like his dad.
But at five years old, the game of hockey stuck. It also helped that in the years that followed, Fushimi’s family continued to support the Avs and attended about 10 Avalanche home games per season.
As Fushimi graduated through the ranks of minor hockey he made it into the midget triple-A Tier 1 league, an elite high performance league throughout much of the United States. It was heavy with travel to the East. But it still wasn’t the Western Hockey League.
When Fushimi cracked the Royals roster for the start of the WHL season back in September, the wide-eyed Colorado kid started with so few shifts per game, you could count them on one hand. The transition took time, which the Royals gave him.
He dressed though, and that was the main thing.
“As a young guy they want you to get the feel of it and contribute what you can,” Fushimi said while packing up his locker at last week’s season ending locker clean out.
“(Coach Dave Lowry) wanted us (16-year-olds) to ease in to the game. With the skill and how hard they hit in this league, he wanted to make sure we were ready.”
At times in September and October it certainly seemed Fushimi was ready. And yet the winger would miss his chance on the breakout because of a rushed outlet pass, or an unlucky bounce. It wouldn’t matter. Back to the bench.
Finally in October, something with Fushimi clicked.
“I’d say around Oct. 15. It was nothing too much really, I started to get more comfortable in the league, more shifts and bigger role,” Fushimi said.
“At first it was a hard change to get into the fast pace and skill, of how big and tough they are.”
Fushimi finished the season with six goals and nine assists. Seven of those 15 points came in a six-game span during the Royals’ amazing January run.
He also learned something about himself with a couple of fights.
“That was a new experience. On the first one the guy was asking me if I wanted to go. I wasn’t too sure what to say, I just dropped my gloves. I wished it came out a little better but it also wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be,” Fushimi said.
The 17-year-old will now stay here for one more month to finish Grade 11 at Vic High before returning to Colorado.
“I’ll skate and work out to get ready for the season next year, with former NHL strength trainer, Mike Keating, who trains NHL, WHL and NCAA players based out of the area.”
When he returns, Fushimi has a good shot at winning a spot on the top two forward lines. His physical play will be a valuable team asset, as is the way he reads the game.
“I’ll be gunning for top-six. I just have to keep playing and doing the simple things, getting the puck deep, playing the body.”
The physical aspect is key as he develops, possibly into a power forward, but also in terms of grinding out a season in the trenches of the WHL. At 6-feet-tall, he’s hoping for a couple more inches.
“Dad is a small guy, about 5-8, but the rest of the family, uncles on both sides are 6-3, 6-4, so I hope to get up there.”
Fushimi is part of the Royals youth movement, a core of 1996 and ’97 born players that includes Joe Hicketts, Jack Walker, Ryan Gagnon, Tyler Soy, Reagan Nagy and Chaz Reddekopp.