Canmore Eagles head coach and GM Andrew Milne was in his office when someone caught his eye.
It was the 2011–12 season, and a boy of no more than 125 pounds had just walked into the dressing room of his Alberta Junior Hockey League club, which was otherwise full of 19-year-olds preparing for a game.
“I just got up and I wondered who that little kid was who walked into our dressing room,” said Milne.
The Eagles needed players so they had called upon a 15-year-old Brayden Point, who was in the midst of his final season of minor hockey with the triple-A Calgary Buffaloes.
Point was producing more than a point per game with the Buffaloes, and had put up 102 points in 33 games in Bantam one season prior. What’s more, his older brother, Riley, was in his third season in Canmore, where Rogers Hometown Hockey makes a stop this weekend. Milne knew enough about Brayden to know he’d make a fine call-up, but the two had never actually met.
“I thought he was our stick boy,” said Milne of his first impression of Brayden that day. “And then I looked and I saw the bag and I sort of went in and said, ‘Holy Christ, that’s Brayden Point. I better phone his dad.'”
While there was a real fear that Brayden could get hurt playing against young men — “he looked like he was 12,” said Milne – the coach was assured by Point patriarch Grant that all would be well.
“He said, ‘Andrew, don’t worry, this one’s on me. If he gets hurt, it’s on me; he’ll be fine.’”
Brayden was a bit more than fine in his Eagles debut playing on a line with his 19-year-old brother. Riley assisted on Brayden’s first goal as an Eagle to tie the game for Canmore before the baby brother returned the favour, assisting on Riley’s winner.
When asked about his first foray into junior hockey, Brayden seemed to remember less about his own debut performance than Riley’s.
“My brother was player of the game that night and that was a really cool experience,” said Brayden, who won a silver medal with Canada at the 2017 world championship last May after his 40-point rookie season playing for the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The night was made more special given the attendance of the Point parents themselves.
“I remember Janice, [Brayden’s] mom, up in the stands crying, and dad was pretty proud,” said Milne.
His aforementioned slight figure didn’t stop Brayden from contributing to the Eagles, collecting three or four points in his four appearances, depending on your source (Elite Prospects and Hockey DB differ on the subject).
“The real advantage he had was his vision,” said Milne. “He could see plays develop before anyone else could — he was so fast in his movement.”
Teams around the league knew who Brayden was, given his totals with the Buffaloes. And those initial concerns regarding his safety soon vanished as opponents found themselves unable to lay the body.
“They tried and they just couldn’t,” said Milne. “He got hit once pretty hard, but he actually spun that hit and used that hit to propel him in a forward motion and was able to take off with the puck.
“Something that I hadn’t seen in a long time… especially not [from] a 15-year-old at 125 pounds.”
While Riley was a mainstay on the Eagles, taking over as team captain in 2012–13, Brayden’s time with Canmore was sparse. He appeared in just four games as a call-up before moving on to the Western Hockey League’s Moose Jaw Warriors to finish the 2011–12 season.
Brayden scored one goal in five games with the Warriors in his first taste of WHL action, but contributed seven goals and three assists in 14 games during the team’s run to the Eastern Conference final that year.
“I think it was good for me to get the experience of playing with older guys, and with bigger guys and a little bit of a faster pace,” said Brayden of his time with Canmore. “And I think just having that experience definitely helped [when he got to Moose Jaw].”
A star junior career followed for Brayden, who has since proven to be quite a steal for the Lightning at 79th overall in the 2014 NHL draft. The sophomore has 20 goals and 46 points this season for the first-place Lightning, and made the Atlantic Division all-star team as an injury replacement back in January.
But while the four games with Canmore gave the 5-foot-11 Lightning forward a taste of playing against soon-to-be men, more important to him was the chance at playing with his older brother.
“[Riley] was awesome,” said Brayden of his senior sibling. “He made me feel right at home.”
It was an opportunity the brothers, born four years apart, would never get again – at least at an organized level.
“I don’t think that’s something a lot of brothers with a four-year separation will ever get to go through,” said Milne. “The excitement for the family was outstanding.
“And that to me is what, with junior hockey, this is all about.”
February 9, 2018, 1:25 PM
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