From May 2, 2018 Sports Illustrated
Despite a Lengthy Hockey Hiatus, Brandon Tanev Has Developed Nicely for the Jets
- It took a while for Brandon Tanev to hit his growth spurt, but the waiting only made him love the game more. The Jets winger has endeared himself to Winnipeg fans in short order.
A few hours before Game 3 of the Western Conference semifinals, Mike Tanev made the quick walk from his downtown Winnipeg hotel and visited the team store inside Bell MTS Place. He was busy perusing the T-shirt and hoodie racks among fellow Jets fans, scouting out garb as gifts for various relatives, when he overheard a woman whose own souvenir search had stalled. “I want to buy a jersey,” the woman lamented, “but they don’t have any with TANEV on them.”
“I’ll be the only one in the arena wearing one,” Mike replied.
That rare memorabilia item came straight from the source, of course—the pearl-white and navy threads worn by middle son Brandon at the outdoor Heritage Classic in Oct. 2016 during his rookie NHL season. A year and a half later, though, the Jets’ marketing department might want to think about stocking those shelves with No. 13 apparel pronto. Capped by an empty-netter during Tuesday’s 7-4 win over Nashville, which helped lift the Jets to a 2-1 series lead, Tanev has now scored goals in four straight Stanley Cup Playoff games, endearing himself to a delirious fan base and proving his worth on the biggest stage in franchise history.
An undrafted free agent who signed with the Jets in March ‘16, he is a shifty puck hound and snappy checker whose father dubs “a bundle of fire.” It probably helps that Tanev also possesses seemingly limitless energy, at least to the extent that former Providence College teammates joked about him requiring toys on the bench to stay occupied between shifts. “He’d always be standing up, alway ready to go,” Friars coach Nate Leaman says. “He never stops.”
Well … not quite never.
“It’s funny,” Mike Tanev says. “People don’t understand that he was out of hockey for four and a half years.”
The system does not tend to reward those who take breaks. It is increasingly specialized, month after month, packed with pressurized travel team tryouts and obsessive helicopter parents and draft rankings that might as well start with defensemen still wearing diapers. And yet Brandon Tanev—future NHLer, future sought-after Winnipeg Jets sweater—barely played competitive hockey as a teenager growing up in the Toronto suburbs. “Just waiting for the day that I would mature and get the size I needed to put myself back into hockey,” he says.
That was the biggest—or smallest, rather—issue. Entering high school at East York Collegiate, Brandon stood several inches short of five feet tall and weighed significantly less than 100 pounds. Naturally this did not prove appealing to local coaches, like the group whom Mike overheard at one Christmas tournament, laughing and wondering why a fifth-grader was allowed on the ice with much older skaters. (Brandon was around 14 then, same age as everyone else.) “Everybody in Toronto are all geniuses, right?” Mike Tanev says. “If you’re not big enough, they don’t want you.” And when no one wanted Brandon during his minor bantam year, Mike pulled him out of the system.
The spurt mercifully arrived during his final year of high school, though even then Brandon only climbed to roughly 5-foot-7. Fortunately that was enough to earn a spot with the OJHL’s Markham Waxers in Ontario, where he turned heads as a point-per-game playmaker before migrating westward to join the Surrey Eagles of the BCHL, another junior A league located in British Columbia. One year later, Tanev found himself matriculating at Providence, the proud recipient of a full ride to a rebuilding Division I college program. Reached over the phone recently, Leaman chuckles at the memory of that “stringbean” of a recruit who arrived on campus in late 2012.
“Tanny,” he says, almost wistfully. “I’d take him on any team, any time, anywhere.”
As it stands today, the Friars were plenty lucky to have him. Goodness knows they might not have captured their first-ever NCAA title if it weren’t for Tanev, then a junior marketing major, dashing across the slot and whipping the game-winning goal against Boston University in the third period of the 2015 title game at TD Garden. “That will never be forgotten,” Leaman says. “The thing is, after you coach someone like Tanny, you’re always looking for the next one. That’s what an impact he had on us as a program and me as a coach. He’s one of a kind.”
No doubt that Winnipeg would agree. Partway through his son’s rookie season in ‘16-17, Mike ran into Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff on the team’s annual father’s trip. At the time Brandon was playing on the one-year, two-way contract that he had signed out of college, meaning that he earned significantly less whenever Winnipeg demoted him to its AHL affiliate, the Manitoba Moose. “I told Kevin, if he gets a one-way contract, you’re going to see a totally different Brandon,” Mike recalls. “When you’re a borderline guy, your main focus is to not go down to the minors. So you have a different mentality. You play to stay in the lineup. You play cautious.”
And cautious is not Brandon’s nature. Mike remembers opposing collegiate defensemen shying away from pucks in the corner because they caught sight of Brandon, barreling down the ice, looking to check them through the glass. “My game is fast and physical,” Brandon says. “I’ve always been taught to work hard and be tenacious. Then, once you have the confidence to hold onto the puck and make plays, it can all come together and work.” True to Mike’s promise, Brandon indeed rounded a corner this season, finishing with 18 points in 61 games, including his first career hat trick against the Bruins on March 27 and this recent four-goal postseason binge.
“That’s impossible,” an awestruck Coffey replied. “No one takes time off in those crucial years and turns into a hockey player.”
Link to the original article is here; https://www.si.com/nhl/2018/05/02/brandon-tanev-winnipeg-jets-stanley-cup-playoffs