SELKIRK — Ryan Smith knows that with the playoffs around the corner, his team needs leaders. Smith, the head coach of the Selkirk Steelers, has plenty of scorers, he just needs players to step up, go to the dirty parts and stand up for the logo on the front of the jersey.
Smith, one of the real good guys in Manitoba hockey, also knows that Dustin Bruyere, is probably the one guy on his team that will not only step up, but really, really, really step up.
“We haven’t had a lot of guys play their best recently, but Dustin is one of those guys who is playing well now and has played pretty consistently all year,” said Smith.
“He’s a heart and soul kind of guy. He goes hard on every shift and he’s a really good teammate. He’s a 20-year-old with experience and he’s real leader. No matter the situation, we can count on him.”
For Bruyere, who is in his fourth season in the Manitoba Junior Hockey, Smith’s words mean a great deal. After all, he’s a guy who believes in the logo on the front of the jersey and doesn’t want it to be tarnished in any way.
“To have the coach say that about is a real honor actually, I’m very proud of that,” Bruyere said, just before a game between the Steelers and the visiting Neepawa Natives. “I’m a really gritty guy always working as hard as I can, I do whatever I can for the team, blocking shots, hitting guys, getting in the occasional fight, even scoring. I’ll do whatever I can for the team.”
Bruyere’s numbers prove his commitment to the Steelers. He’s seventh on the team in scoring with 10 goals and 15 assists and he leads the team in penalty minutes with 93. He is not afraid to defend his teammates in any situation.
He’s also the kind of guy who knows what he’s accomplished. No one doubts the fact that the smallish, 5-foot-10, 180-pounder has always worked hard and played bigger than his body might suggest.
“I started in hockey in my community in Sagkeeng until I was a teenager,” Bruyere explained. “That’s when my parents decided to move to the city so I could play hockey because I was playing summer hockey (Warriors) with a lot of the guys I that know in the city that I’m playing with now. A lot of their parents told my parents that it would be a good idea to go and play Triple A (Wild). So I went to the city and played there, was drafted by the Saints, played a year with the Saints and then was traded here and I’ve been here for the last three years.”
When it comes to his future, Bruyere makes no bones about it. He’s going to get an education and he hopes he’ll be able to play university hockey while he chases his degree.
“My future? Definitely go to school.” He said. “That’s my plan, to go to school to play hockey wherever I can. I’d love to the States, if I could, but I haven’t talked to anybody yet. I’m not sure yet, but I want to play hockey in school someplace.”
As for this season, the Steelers have a lot of work to do. The Steelers are 24-20-5, third in the Addison Division and while they have a lock on a playoff spot, they have not played particularly well since Christmas.
“We’ve been losing too many games in overtime and some games we didn’t even deserve to be in the game,” Bruyere said. “Our goalie Riley Feser has kept us in a lot of games. Our goalies have been really good since Christmas.
“Part of the reason we’ve struggled is that we’re a really young team. I’m usually on a team that has a full roster of 20-year-olds, but this year we have a lot of 93s, even 95s. Because we have so many inexperienced players – and they should be used to playing at this level by now, but on some nights, obviously we all aren’t – we have to continue to work hard. We’re definitely good enough to take a long playoff run, but if we don’t work hard, we aren’t going to win.
“I think we’re a really good team. We have to work on the little things. At practices, we have to be working hard no matter what. Even after playing two games in a row, we have to keep working hard. Because we’re so young, we can’t afford to take a night off. We have to work as hard as we can. If we don’t, the playoffs aren’t going to last too long.”
(All Photos by Desiree Derlago)