Brandon Watt has battled through some tough times during his college hockey career. During the first game of his sophomore season, he tore his tricep, causing him to miss 12 games. Last season he was injured in the fifth game of the season against Army, which caused him to miss 11 games. Despite this turmoil, Watt was able to make an impact as a bottom six forward on Colonial teams that were very successful, but lost in the conference finals each season.
Now, as he enters his final year as a Colonial, Watt has been given an even bigger role, as he will be the team’s captain. As the program enters its 15th season, the players are tasked with continuing to build upon recent successes and growing towards bigger and better things. It’s clear that the past personal and team experiences have shaped Watt as a player and leader, and he’s ready to guide a very young, but skilled Colonials squad along the way as it strives to achieve its ultimate goal.
“It was a huge honor, obviously it felt really good to find that out,” Watt shared in a phone interview with PHD. “It’s an honor not only to wear the Colonial jersey every night but to be named captain of the team. It also feels pretty good to be alongside Alex Tonge and Luke Lynch with the leadership roles but also with the other upperclassmen I think there are a ton of great leaders on this team, so I’m really excited for the season.”
Although the team’s first taste of true game action comes in a few days, the players and coaches have been hard at work preparing for the season. Of course this included individual work over the summer, but since the players came back to campus in late August they’ve been working together to get ready to play. With eleven newcomers, it could be a challenge to build overall team chemistry and get everyone on the same page as far as systems and playing style go. However, Watt has been happy with the team’s progress to this point.
“Preseason went really well,” he reflected. “Obviously there were a lot of new faces in the room. We were lucky enough to get more practice time on the ice with the coaches during preseason than in previous years, where we were only allowed two hours on the ice a week with coaches whereas this year we were allowed four. I think we were able to prepare a little bit more which comes in handy obviously like I said with all of the new faces.”
While practices may help to develop a structure for the team, it can be difficult to see how it translates until there is real competition. The team was offered that opportunity this past weekend with an exhibition game against The Brock Badgers, a Canadian University Team. The Colonials emerged as the winners, with 4-2 as the final.
Some of the newcomers found their way onto the box score, as Nick Lalonde and Brendan Michaelian assisted on goals while Justin Addamo had a goal and an assist. While scoring is always nice, that was not the biggest takeaway from the game. This was more about figuring out how the team and players stacked up in game action, and it seems that the team found it to be a valuable experience.
“It was a really good learning experience I think for both the coaches and for us, just to see where we were at in terms of different structures, systems, stuff like that,” he said. “Obviously it was nice to get the win, but I think the number one thing we took away is we were able to take away a lot of things, stuff that we need to work on, stuff that we are excelling at or stuff that we need to improve before playing a team like Bowling Green this upcoming weekend and starting the season off that way.”
It’s important for a team to be a cohesive unit on the ice, but in college hockey there is a lot more at play than just hockey. Freshmen have to adjust to life as student athletes, many played junior hockey after high school and now have to get back into taking classes. They also have to adjust to living on a college campus, practicing on and off the ice, and traveling to games, all of which can be an overwhelming experience for freshmen.
As an upperclassman in general, Watt feels a responsibility to be there for these freshmen to help them with whatever they may need. As the captain, that is perhaps more of a requirement than just a responsibility. Nonetheless, he knows what he needs to do to be as helpful as possible for the 11 newcomers on the team.
“I just try and be there for them,” he remarked. “I remember as a freshman there were a lot of times, especially at the start of the season, where you have questions. As an older guy, as someone who’s been on the team, you know things that you’re supposed to do or not supposed to do. So I just make sure when something new is happening for the freshmen that I let them know and I’m there for them, I keep them informed and up to date. I let them know that if they ever have any questions that I can be there for them to talk to.”
When it comes to being the captain of a team, there isn’t really one recipe for success. Some of the best captains are star players, while others are role players that lead by example both on and off the ice. The Colonials have certainly had examples of both in recent years. It is all about reading the team to figure out what is needed to keep the players in the room motivated and on track to fulfill their goals.
Some of these leadership skills are innate, but there are definitely habits and best practices that can be learned. Watt has been able to develop his own style taking into account aspects of his former captains.
“My leadership style I think is just being a positive leader,” Watt stated. “Leading by example on and off the ice. I’ve learned a lot from the three captains in my first three years, Tyson Wilson, Rob Mann and Alex Bontje. I think all three of them had different styles of leadership, and I think everybody as a captain has a different style of leadership. So I think I’m kind of finding my own and I’m drawing off what I learned from those guys because they were very effective leaders and I learned a lot from them.”
His first opportunity to do this in a game that really counts will be on Friday night, when the team opens the season against Bowling Green, currently ranked 20th in the latest USCHO.com poll. This is the first chance for the Colonials to prove that the hard work they put in over the summer and the preseason translates into success on the ice. However, it certainly won’t be easy.
Bowling Green is off to a phenomenal start this season, as they have already played two games, winning them by a combined total of 14-4. This included an 8-2 victory over RMU’s fellow Atlantic Hockey counterpart, the Mercyhurst Lakers. This game will be a chance to see how the team stacks up against one of the stronger teams in the country. While any season-opening game is exciting, there seems to be a little extra fuel in the fire as the team awaits this first test of the season.
“I think we are excited and we’re happy, obviously it was nice to get the win on Sunday, but I think we’re ready for the real thing,” he shared. “It’s nice to open the season against a good team like Bowling Green because then we’ll really be able to see where we’re at. I think playing a good team like number 20 ranked Bowling Green when we’re hyped up and excited for our home opener is good. I think it will be a good test for us for sure to see where we’re at in comparison to a ranked team early on, and it’ll be good for the young guys to see the quality of hockey that’s played in college.”
Watt knows what it’s like to be on a successful team. RMU won the regular season championship when he was a freshman, and has made the conference tournament title game in each of his three seasons. While the team has gotten so close, they have never been able to cross that hump and reach the NCAA tournament in any of those strong seasons. Unsurprisingly, that is what the team wants to do in the upcoming season.
“I think it’s safe to say we’re all hoping to get back to the tournament, but unlike my first three years, instead of losing in the finals actually winning the conference and making it to the big tournament,” he said. “I think everyone has a similar goal that we shouldn’t be accepting anything less than that. We have a ton of talent on our team this year and I think it’s reasonable for us to say that we deserve nothing less to get back to the tournament, but this time we should win it. That’s what everyone’s main goal is, so we’re just working hard every day to achieve that main goal.”
Their first opportunity to progress towards achieving that main goal comes on Friday, 7 p.m. at the RMU Island Sports Center.