Brandt thriving with Griffins after injuries derailed promising start to U SPORTS career

Riley Brandt is producing at a point-per-game pace for the Griffins in 2021-22 (Joel Kingston photo).
Riley Brandt is producing at a point-per-game pace for the Griffins in 2021-22 (Joel Kingston photo).

Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics

EDMONTON – Few have ever experienced the peaks and valleys of a U SPORTS career quite like Riley Brandt.

The Trail, B.C. native was named to the U SPORTS All-Rookie team in 2017-18 after leading the nation in goals with 21 in 28 games for Royal Military College and won the Paladins' Male Athlete of the Year.

Then he blew out his knee.

After putting in a full year of recovery, missing the entire 2018-19 season, he tore the ACL again in his second game back in 2019-20.

Then COVID happened and he missed another season when competition was cancelled for 2020-21.

"There were definitely a lot of dark moments throughout the course of those two or three years I went through there," said Brandt, who transferred to MacEwan in 2020 looking for a fresh start. "I didn't really ever think I'd be able to be back in the position I'm in now.

"I'm very grateful Mike (Ringrose, Griffins head coach) has given me the opportunity to come back and play. He's given me the chance on and off the ice to be able to showcase my talents. I'm really excited that I'm here and I'm looking forward to the rest of the season."

With all of that in his background, it must have felt like Brandt climbed a mountain when he not only led the Griffins to a pair of season-opening wins over Regina, he was named Canada West men's hockey player of the week on Oct. 19.

"That definitely caught me off guard," he said. "Those were my first games in over two and a half years, so that's a huge honour.

"I just tried to go out there and do my best. We had a good weekend that first weekend. Our team played well. Unfortunately, we had a little bit of a COVID issue the weekend after that, so it kind of nipped (our momentum) after those first two games. We had a really good start to the season. I was able to score a few goals and get that (award).That was an honour."

Currently MacEwan's leading scorer with four goals and six points in as many games, Brandt will lead the Griffins (2-6-0-0) into weekend home action vs. Trinity Western University (0-8-0-0) on Friday (7 p.m.) and Saturday (2 p.m., both Downtown Community Arena, Canada West TV presented by Co-op).

Riley Brandt scored 21 goals in 28 games for the Royal Military College Paladins during his U SPORTS rookie season in 2017-18 (Peter Reimer photo).

"That year definitely showed me that I can score goals," said Brandt of the 2027-18 season. "I wasn't able to do that very much over my junior career, so going into my first year of college and scoring 21 goals in 28 games helped my confidence a lot for the years to come.

"Unfortunately I wasn't able to play for three years after that, but it definitely showed I'm able to do that and it gave me some confidence for this year to get off to a good start."

Ringrose noted his style is tailor-made for success; the 5-foot-7 dynamo doesn't back down from anyone, mixing physicality and speed with a lethal shot.

"He's a guy that has had success now at this level," said Ringrose. "He's competitive enough that as a smaller guy, it doesn't faze him playing against any one. He's tough as nails. He hits like a truck and is able to create his own space.

"He's been a huge asset to our group both from an offensive perspective as our leading scorer, but also leading the way and showing the competitiveness that is almost contagious amongst his teammates."

Versatility is also his calling card as Brandt has been used in multiple situations up and down the lineup throughout his career.

"The one thing about Brandter is wherever you put him, you know he's going to drive the line for you," said Ringrose. "He hunts pucks, he wants them on his stick, has a very high hockey IQ, puts himself in good spots and he's got the shot to make you pay if you give him the opportunity. Right now, he's played up the middle for us, he's played on the wing for us, he's certainly a bit of a Swiss Army Knife."

Riley Brandt skates away from Calgary's James Shearer during Canada West action earlier this month (Joel Kingston photo).

For Brandt, the other benefit of playing at MacEwan was the opportunity to play with his cousin Spencer McLean, who has been with the Griffins since 2019.

"We played against each other in junior – he played for Trail and I played for Vernon," said Brandt. "So, being able to come here (is special) and we are roommates, too.

"We have a close family back home – everybody's from Trail and our parents watch the games together. It's been a cool experience, having my cousin here."

The Griffins head into an important weekend as they look to get back on track in a push for a playoff spot. The squad started the season 2-0, but has lost six in a row since.

"We've had some talks around the room," said Brandt of the quest to rediscover their early season form. "I think one of the things in this shortened season, only playing 20 games, is just to have a short memory. We don't have very many games to be able to dwell on the past weekend.

"I think that just having short memories and looking forward to the next games here is what we have to do to get back on the right path."