Bradley, Smart in­spired by taste of NHL

Regina Leader-Post - - FRONT PAGE - GREG HARDER gharder@post­media.com

Matt Bradley would like to think his brief flir­ta­tion with the Min­nesota Wild could lead to a longert­erm re­la­tion­ship.

The 20-year-old cen­tre will be play­ing for an NHL con­tract when he be­gins the 2017-18 WHL sea­son with the Regina Pats, who ac­quired him on May 22 from the Medicine Hat Tigers.

Bradley warmed up for his fi­nal ju­nior cam­paign by join­ing the Wild at an NHL rookie tour­na­ment in Tra­verse City, Mich. The five-day com­pe­ti­tion ended Tues­day, but Bradley hopes it’s just the start of his af­fil­i­a­tion with the club.

“Any team would be a dream come true but things are go­ing good with them right now; if they con­tinue, that would be awe­some,” said Bradley, who had one goal in three games with Min­nesota as a free-agent in­vi­tee. “They showed a lot of in­ter­est right off the bat. I got my fair share of play­ing time (in Tra­verse City) and they trusted me with spe­cial teams a bit so that was re­ally nice. I got a lot of good feed­back. They’re go­ing to be here lots watch­ing (this sea­son). It was just an all-around great ex­pe­ri­ence.”

Bradley went to camp pre­vi­ously with the Mon­treal Cana­di­ens, who se­lected him in the fifth round of the 2015 NHL draft. The club de­cided not to sign him this sum­mer, mak­ing him a free agent.

“Ev­ery­thing hap­pens for a rea­son,” said Bradley. “They have what they’re look­ing for and I guess I just didn’t re­ally fit into the pic­ture. It’s not the end of the world. There’s a lot of other teams out there.”

Those teams are sure to be watch­ing as Bradley be­gins his jour­ney in Regina, the host city for the 2018 Me­mo­rial Cup. The op­por­tu­nity to play deep into the spring could lead to some much­needed ex­po­sure for play­ers with pro as­pi­ra­tions.

“It’s a big year; there’s go­ing to be a lot of spot­light on us,” said Bradley. “It’s my last year of ju­nior so ev­ery­thing is on the line. I’m pretty lucky to be traded to a team like this for my last year. I’m sur­rounded by a bunch of great play­ers. Hope­fully they’ll be able to make me bet­ter as well as me mak­ing them bet­ter.”

Those sen­ti­ments also ap­ply to Pats de­fence­man Jonathan Smart, who re­cently spent some time with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Smart wasn’t se­lected in the 2017 NHL draft but the Leafs quickly stepped up and in­vited him to their sum­mer devel­op­ment camp, fol­lowed by a rookie tour­na­ment last week­end in Toronto.

“It was fun,” said Smart, 18, who played in one game ver­sus Mon­treal. “It’s not quite the real deal but it was pretty sur­real wear­ing that jersey. It’s def­i­nitely some­thing I’ll re­mem­ber for the rest of my life.”

Be­yond the nov­elty fac­tor, Smart also be­lieves he ben­e­fited as a player.

“It was a good learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence,” he said. “It was cool to see how fast the game is played at that level. (He also wit­nessed) how pro­fes­sional a lot of those guys are, just their every­day rou­tines and how they treat their bod­ies. It’s amaz­ing to see and some­thing you re­ally want to take back here and teach to the younger guys.”

Smart is hop­ing his re­la­tion­ship with the Leafs will con­tinue but there’s no guar­an­tee as he looks to re-en­ter the draft pool in 2018.

Re­gard­less, he plans on putting the ex­pe­ri­ence to good use.

“I’m just go­ing to take what they gave me and come back here and play my best and play with a chip on my shoul­der and see where it takes me,” added Smart, whose team con­cludes the pre-sea­son on Saturday night in Prince Al­bert. “It’s a big year for me. I think I have a lot to prove. I’m go­ing to do ev­ery­thing I can to help the team win. If the team is win­ning, that means I’m hav­ing suc­cess. It comes hand in hand.”

MICHAEL BELL

Cen­tre Matt Bradley is back with the Regina Pats af­ter at­tend­ing rookie camp with the NHL’s Min­nesota Wild as a free-agent in­vi­tee.

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