It’s got to be a thrill to be the captain of your hometown major junior hockey team.
It’s got to be an even bigger thrill when that team wins the national title and you’re the first one to get your hands on the renowned championship trophy.
Guelph native Paul Brydges knows what that feels like, a feeling no Guelph captain has experienced since whether they’re from Guelph or elsewhere.
Brydges was captain of the Guelph Platers in the 1985-86 season, a season that finished with him and his teammates celebrating a Memorial Cup championship win in the tournament held that season in Portland, Ore.
On Wednesday, Brydges is to enter the Guelph Sports Hall of Fame as an athlete in the Class of 2020. That Platers’ squad is already in the hall in the team category.
“As far as any pressure to be captain of your hometown team, an OHL team, I didn't really feel it,” Brydges says. “Every game I just went out and played, but it was certainly an honour to be named the captain and I took it seriously. I tried to be the hardest working guy on the ice if I could every night. I wasn't one to say too much in the room -- for this team not a whole lot had to be said.”
During that year’s Memorial Cup dinner, Brydges had his photo taken with Hockey Hall of Famer Andy Bathgate who had been captain of the 1951-52 Guelph Mad Hatters who also won the Memorial Cup.
“I still have that picture on my wall,” Brydges says. “He was the last captain to win, in '52, and then I was the captain of our team and we had a photo taken together. And then it made the front of the OHL Guide, too. That was pretty nice and I thought that was pretty special.”
And Brydges remembers a charity game after his professional playing days were over when the two championship-winning captains were on the ice together at the old Memorial Gardens arena.
“The last time I saw Andy, we had a Firefighters game and this was back in the Gardens now, which I loved, Memorial Gardens,” Brydges says. “It was '97 or '98 and we played the Hockey Heroes and Andy played in that game. I never did go up to him and say 'Hey, do you remember me?' That kind of thing, but it was kind of cool to be on the ice with him.”
A pre-season bet on the Platers to win the Memorial Cup in 1986 would have brought in a huge payday. It was their fourth year in the OHL and they hadn’t qualified for the playoffs in any of the first three.
“No, they didn't plan on winning the Memorial Cup and nor did any of us, but as the season progressed – we got off to a decent start and the guys started believing in themselves,” Brydges says. “We gelled. We were a close bunch.
“We just gelled and we believed in (head coach) Jacques (Martin’s) system that he put in place. We saw that it was working, the defensive style of play and disciplined. In the end, and I can speak for myself only, I just didn't feel that anybody could really match the way we played. When we went into games, we just played our game. Sometimes it didn't work, but most times we just went in, played our game and we were successful with it.”
Brydges was never drafted into the NHL although he played four seasons with the Platers and accumulated 79 goals, 100 assists and 191 penalty minutes in 243 regular season games. He played in 19 playoff games, all in the Memorial Cup season, and had 10 goals, 15 assists and 22 penalty minutes.
However, a pair of NHL teams wanted him as a free agent signing and after the OHL season was over he had to decide between going to the Chicago Blackhawks or the Buffalo Sabres where the legendary Scotty Bowman was head coach.
“I ended up choosing Scotty and that's an honour because it's Scotty Bowman,” Brydges says. “It was a good year. I was up and down four times, but to stay there it's pretty tough.”
Unfortunately Bowman was fired in the second half of the season and that made it even tougher for Brydges to stick with the Sabres.
“It can be difficult to stay if the guy who brought you in is now fired. I got my toe in the door and the thing that kind of peeves me off a little bit is that I'm playing in Quebec and I'm thinking that I'm starting to go here. I'm starting to feel good and starting to get the knack of this, but (Bowman’s replacement Ted Sator) sent me down. I probably should have said, 'No, leave me up for another five games and I'll prove to you.' But I didn't say that and so I went down. That was the third time.
“The fourth time I came up and I was sent down again. I had hurt my shoulder in St. Louis and so I finished out the season in Buffalo and then I went down and hurt my shoulder again in Rochester during the playoffs.”
That injury affected his off-season training and ultimately cost him his spot in the NHL.
“I was pencilled in to be in Buffalo, but I wasn't in shape because I couldn't do anything with my shoulder and I had pulled my groin during the summer. I just wasn't in good shape and you have guys coming in behind you who they drafted or free agents and now you're slowly going down the totem pole. That's kind of what happened. There's some luck involved in staying there and some hard work, but it was certainly nice to get my time up there and feel it and enjoy it while I was there.”
And he also has a memory of his time in the NHL hanging on a wall in his home – the front page of the Toronto Sun with a photo of him scoring against the Toronto Maple Leafs, one of the two goals he scored in his 15 games in the league.
“I remember the play,” Brydges says. “It was my old roommate Joe Ricci, he was dumping the puck in from just inside the redline. I was coming out of the offensive zone and I took a quick button hook back and Borje Salming tried to flag it down with his hand. As I exited the blueline and it came back in, it just kind of dropped on my stick. I had Wendel Clark chasing me and I was putting the jets on because he wasn't going to catch me. A breakaway on Hockey Night in Canada and I scored on Alan Bester. It was a pretty amazing moment and then for the next day, people are calling me up and saying it's on the front page of the Toronto Sun. I have that on the wall downstairs, too.”
Brydges gave himself four years to get established in the NHL and when that didn’t happen, he returned to Guelph and soon after joined the coaching staff of the Guelph Storm for their inaugural season.
He stayed with the Storm as an assistant coach through their first five seasons, from the 1991-92 season through the 1995-96 campaign, the one that culminated with three losses in the Memorial Cup in Peterborough after they had lost in seven games to the Petes in the OHL final that saw the road team win all seven games. The Storm had home-ice for the OHL final and they were nipped 8-7 in overtime in Game 7. They never got over it.
He returned for one more season with the Storm and it resulted in another trip to the Memorial Cup after a sweep of Mississauga in the 2003-04 OHL final. The Memorial Cup was in Kelowna that season and the Storm again lost all three of their games there.
He also coached a couple of seasons with the Guelph Gryphons as an assistant under head coach Marlin Muylaert. A 4-3 victory over the University of New Brunswick in the final of the 1996-97 season made the Gryphons the last team to claim the national championship University Cup on Maple Leaf Gardens ice.
“I think I was a fair coach,” Brydges says. “I think I was as hard as I could be on the guys, kind of like the way I was hard on myself. If there was more to give I would tell the guys there was more to give if they weren't giving it their all.
“I also knew which guys you could push and be verbally loud to and encouraging to and other ones you knew to hold back and not say anything because they'd tank. There's a fine line when you're coaching who you can say give it to and other ones that you just give them that leeway and let them work it out themselves. I enjoyed it and I sometimes wish I was doing it again, coaching again. Coaching was enjoyable for me.”
Wednesday Brydges will officially become a member of the Guelph Sports Hall of Fame along with the other members of the Class of 2020 – standardbred horse trainer and driver Ben Wallace, outstanding 2014 U16 AA ringette squad Guelph Sodrox Chemicals Predators, hockey player Brad Pirie (played four seasons with the Peterborough Petes including the 1972-73 season when they won the Memorial Cup and earned the right to be Canada’s representatives in the 1974 world junior championship tournament in the Soviet Union, played three seasons with the Guelph Gryphons and another season with the Canadian national team) and local sports photojournalist Rob Massey at the Kiwanis Club of Guelph’s Sports Celebrity Dinner at the Italian Canadian Club.