From Kapuskasing to Charlottetown
Kapuskasking is a small town of about 8000 people. The next biggest town is Timmins, almost two hours away. There's one hockey arena in the area, and the ice comes out for the summer.
Marc Clavelle is the recreational director for the town. His role gave him access to the ice at the Kapuskasing Sports Palace whenever there was no bookings. That allowed his son to be on the ice whenever he wanted. That was where Brendon Clavelle developed his love for hockey.
"Whenever there was no school, or whenever the rink was closed, I was able to be on the ice." said Brendon.
Kapuskasing didn't have high-level hockey; the highest levels of minor hockey was just A until Midget, which was a AAA team. Because of that, Brendon played ahead of his age group, playing with the group one year ahead of him. Eventually, to continue playing at the highest level possible, Brendon and his parents decided to have him play Bantam AAA in Timmins, commuting two hours each way for practices on Tuesdays and Thursdays, plus travelling to games on the weekends.
That arrangement lasted just one year; in his second year of bantam, Brendon returned to Kapuskasing to play Midget AAA. That made him a 14-year-old playing hockey against players as old as 18.
From there, the journey would continue a little further from home. At 15, Brendon made the decision to move to Sudbury and live with a billet, playing for the Sudbury Wolves Minor Midget AAA team. The hope was that playing in a more densely populated area would expose Clavelle to more eyes in the hopes of realizing his dream of one day playing in the Ontario Hockey League.
Unfortunately, that plan didn't come together. Despite talking to a few scouts throughout the year, Brendon was passed over and not drafted to the OHL.
"It's really tough for a kid from my area to get noticed," Clavelle explained. "There aren't many scouts up north; they wouldn't know if you're playing a year ahead of your peers because you're still only playing A hockey. The only chance you might have is to move to Sudbury and play Midget hockey for a year."
Moving to Sudbury, as Brendon would discover, was far from a guarantee.
"Even then it's still tough; the way it works is that there's no regular season, only tournaments. We had no one to play against, so we played nine tournaments throughout the year. There were really no scouts from the OHL that knew I existed until I moved to Sudbury."
Undeterred, he'd return home for one more year of midget in Kapuskasing before heading on the move again, this time nearly 8 hours from home to Pembroke, to play Junior A hockey for the Lumber Kings. He had opportunities at the major junior level, earning training camp invites with the London Knights and Niagara IceDogs, but nothing came to fruition. That hardship fuelled Brendon. He decided that if he wasn't going to play major junior hockey, he was going to work towards earning an NCAA scholarship.
"I was pretty motivated by not getting drafted. I felt that there were guys drafted that weren't as good as me. It gave me that mentality of 'I'm just gonna go to school, put in the work here in Pembroke, and push myself to get the opportunity to play in the States.' It gave me a chip on my shoulder throughout my entire playing career."
During Christmas of 2016, however, one phone call put major junior hockey back on the table. He was contacted by Guy Girouard, the associate coach of the Islanders and a fellow Kapuskasing native. He reached out to see what Brendon's plans were for the following season.
Girouard and Islanders head coach Jim Hulton reached out again in the offseason and invited Brendon to Hulton's summer identification camp in Kingston. It was the first time that Clavelle had ever played any form of summer hockey.
"It had been my first time skating in a long time, we had gone out in the first round. I thought I was in rough shape."
Despite the rink rust, Clavelle impressed to the point that he signed an agreement with the Islanders, and he'd report to Charlottetown that August for his first training camp.
From the outset, nothing was guaranteed for Clavelle. He didn't know whether he'd be playing or he'd be scratched, but he controlled only what he could; his work ethic.
"I worked my tail off throughout the year," Clavelle said. "I started to really learn what the CHL was all about. I worked as hard as I could to stay in the lineup and was lucky enough to play regularly and not be scratched."
The season did bring it's share of hardships; Clavelle suffered a shoulder injury that took him out of action for some time following the Christmas break. To his credit, Clavelle came back better than ever, and joined his teammates on a magical run to the QMJHL semi-finals.
"I would have to say that year was my favourite time in hockey," he said. "That entire ride we had that underdog mentality; nobody really believed in us. The group of guys we had was unbelievable; Pascal (Aquin), Keith (Getson), P-O (Joseph), (Olivier) Desjardins. It was by far the funnest time I had in my hockey career."
Clavelle carried that hard work ethic in to his first QMJHL offseason. It was the first time he'd consistently play hockey throughout the summer; he started working at Andrew's Hockey which gave him consistent access to the ice. It was also the first time that he'd consistently train with pro-level players.
"I was able to step on the ice with guys like Josh Currie, Zack MacEwen, Ryan Graves," explained Clavelle. "Those guys have played in the NHL, and here I am skating with them daily. It was such a good learning experience to work out with and look up to those guys on a daily basis. It allowed me to see first-hand what the off-ice grind was all about. I learned a ton."
The work wasn't just put in on the ice and in the training room; Clavelle would work regularly with nutritionist Nancy Fong to carve out a healthy eating strategy to take him to the next level. By the time that his second training camp rolled around, Brendon weighed in at a lean 185 pounds, 20 less than the season before with a lot more muscle on his body.
The results showed almost instantaneously; Clavelle was leaned on as a top shutdown defenseman for the Islanders, but also stepped up offensively. After just 21 games, Clavelle would match his point total of 7 from the season before. He'd triple that by the end of the season, finishing with four goals and 21 points, while also racking up an impressive +18.
"At that point I had one year under my belt, and I was another year older," Clavelle explained. "I'm a defensive defenseman, and I take pride my role. I don't think about points. The big thing for me was going from even the season before to a plus-18."
When asked who played crucial roles in helping him to become the player he was, Clavelle named a number of players and coaches, including Pierre-Olivier Joseph, Olivier Desjardins, Hunter Drew, as well as Girouard and former Isles assistant coach Brad Mackenzie.
"Especially in my first year, I'd stay out on the ice a ton with either Guy or Brad. I'd stay on the ice after practices were over and they were always there to help me out any time I would ask them. I credit my success to them; they got me to the point that I am today."
"Brendon is a good balance of Joseph and Desjardins," added Girouard. "P-O was a vibrant, outgoing leader while Olivier was more subdued and led by example. You could say that Brendon got the best qualities of both guys."
The hard work continued for Clavelle in his second offseason. As he entered his final season of junior hockey, he was bestowed a title that few people wear on the ice; Brendon was unanimously voted by his teammates as the next Charlottetown Islanders team captain.
"The coaches told me in front of the entire team. It was an unbelievable feeling. I would never have expected that coming in to my first year here in Charlottetown; that was the last thing I was thinking about. To me, it proved that when you put in the work and when you put in the time, it pays off."
"When you go and look at the Captain's Wall and you see the names that came before, it's a huge honour to be among them."
"It didn't shock me that his teammates thought so highly of him," said Girouard on Clavelle's captaincy. "He gets it honestly from his parents. His mom and dad are both leaders in the Kapuskasing community, and have been from a young age. Brendon is like them in that regard."
Clavelle's leadership shines through both on and off the ice. As a fully bilingual player from Northern Ontario, Clavelle has helped bridge any perceived language gap, something that can help unify a locker room.
"My grandmother is fully English, so I had to learn to speak both languages at a young age," explained Clavelle. "I'm really lucky to have been born in that environment and grow up with both languages. It's helped me talk to the French guys and bring everyone together as one group as opposed to having cliques."
"It can be a very tough transition, being a young guy from Quebec and moving from an all-French community to an all-English environment. I'm lucky to be able to help them with that transition."
They say it takes a village to raise a child, and Clavelle had a number of people help him get to this point.
"My parents drove me four hours a day to hockey at one point. They're my number one fans; I can't repay them enough for what they've done for me. They've helped me so much throughout the years, it's incredible all the things that they've done."
"When I got to Charlottetown, guys like P-O and Pascal, Getsy, Desjardins, Hunter, Welshy, I'd try to be just like them. Those guys throughout the years motivated me and were there for me whenever I needed something. They'd push me hard to be better and expected more of me when I would expect less."
"My trainer back home, Sheldon Reasbeck, and my good buddy from back home Zak Dorval, who played major junior in Kingston, they'd motivate me because I wanted to play at that level."
"Everyone I worked with here in Charlottetown at Andrew's Hockey, from the top down was amazing. I've learned so much from them just by working underneath Allan and Josh Andrews. All of the people at Andrews have done so much for me in my time in Charlottetown."
"Jim, Guy, and Brad gave me the opportunity to be here, to start my major junior career. That was huge. Those three believed in me and gave me the shot to play in key situations. I've learned tremendously from them. Kevin and Spider did so much work with me to keep me in shape through the injuries and rough stretches that I can't thank them enough."
"I know I've missed so many people too, so to everyone who's had a part in my career, thank you."
While his final season of major junior hockey didn't end in a way that anyone could have envisioned, Brendon Clavelle's journey from Kapuskasing to Charlottetown has been nothing short of extraordinary. His setbacks gave him perspective on what it took to get to the next level, and he tackled those obstacles to ultimately realize his dream of playing major junior hockey.
"I never would have thought that I'd be the captain of a CHL team. Every day I try to put that in to perspective and think about that before the day starts. I've been a part of some great moments and built relationships with a so many amazing people. It's been an unbelievable ride that I'll never forget."
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Quebec Major Junior Hockey League Stories from March 19, 2020
- From Kapuskasing to Charlottetown - Charlottetown Islanders
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