All Brian Bradley wanted was a little sun.
It was June 18, 1992 and Bradley was in Calgary, Alberta playing a round of golf with fellow NHL stars Al MacInnis and Gary Roberts. It was not your typical day on the links however, as Bradley was anxiously awaiting an important phone call.
“It was the day of the NHL Expansion Draft,” Bradley said. “Ottawa and Tampa Bay were the two teams expanding into the NHL and it was an anxious day for me because I knew I was going to be picked up by one of those teams. I had already played in Calgary, Vancouver and Toronto so if I got picked up by Ottawa it would be my fourth Canadian team if you can believe it.”
“I really wanted to go to Tampa and experience something different,” Bradley said. “Everyone knew I wanted to go to Tampa, so a few people tried to joke around with me saying I got picked up by Ottawa, but when I found out for real I got picked up by the Lightning I was pumped.”
With his wish granted, the Flames’ third-round pick, 51st overall, of the 1983 NHL Entry Draft, set off for unchartered territory into a market that had never seen hockey, let alone professional hockey.
“Everybody was really excited,” Bradley said. “The weather was beautiful so everybody knew it was a great location to live but in terms of hockey nobody really knew what to expect. We went down there our first year and we played in Expo Hall which was not even close to an NHL-caliber building. It was a fresh start for all of us though and that first year was a lot of fun.”
Suiting up for his fourth team in a span of four years, Bradley had his fair share of “fresh starts,” but there was something about Tampa that was going to be different this time.
“I think when I started my career in Calgary there was so much depth that I got caught up in a numbers game,” Bradley said. “With no room for me there, I was traded shortly after to Vancouver where I loved it. I was playing on the second and third line and was playing well. I thought that if I stayed in Vancouver we would have had a chance to do something really special, but that never worked out and I was traded to Toronto. In Toronto my numbers were better but my ice time was real low, almost to the point I could never get anything going. That only lasted two years, but it was a real good learning experience and I am fortunate I was able to have those experiences.
“After I got picked up by Tampa Bay in 1992, I think I was more mature as a person and I was motivated to show the people in Toronto that they gave up on me and I was a better player than they thought.”
Boy, did Bradley ever make Toronto regret that decision.
With the confidence of head coach Terry Crisp and the freedom to play the game that got him to the NHL, Bradley went on to lead the Bolts in scoring for the first four years of the franchise’s existence, amassing 111 goals and 300 points in 328 games, including a career high 42 goals and 86 points in 80 games during the 1992-93 season.
Bradley also scored the first-ever goal at the Tampa Bay Times Forum and played in the 1993 and 1994 NHL All-Star Games as the lone Lightning representative.
Known to many as the first ‘star’ player in Bolts history, Bradley watched Tampa Bay evolve from a sun-belt city, to a hockey-craved market in only a few short years.
“I think it took a couple of years,” Bradley said. “When we made the playoffs in 1996 and lost to Philadelphia in the first round, I think that was the first time we really established ourselves to our fans. In the early years we used to go to the bars after the games and mingle with fans and I think that was a really big hit in the community.
“What you’re seeing now is a city that loves hockey, is passionate about hockey and having been around for the evolution of the fan base, it has been really special to see.”
Though Bradley enjoyed personal success during his tenure with the Lightning, he unfortunately was never able to capture hockey’s ultimate prize as his career was cut short six years before the Lightning captured the Stanley Cup.
“It was 1998 and I took a bad hit in Los Angeles,” Bradley recalls. “I never really had a concussion before so I had no idea what to expect. I thought at the time I would be out maybe one or two weeks and it would be nothing major at all. I ended up having post-concussion syndrome for two-three years and that was the end of my career.
“The first year of the concussion, my headaches were really bad, almost like migraine headaches where I couldn’t do anything. After a couple years the headaches started to subside and I thought maybe I could make a comeback in the NHL but after talks with my doctor we both realized that if I took another hit to the head, it could be life threatening so it wasn’t even worth it.”
A concussion as severe as Bradley’s can often leave players with a sour taste left in their mouths, but Bradley chose to shed some positive light on the situation, realizing himself along with a couple other former star players paved the way for concussion protocol today.
“Today’s game has changed so much in terms of player safety and concussion protocol,” Bradley notes. “Pat Lafontaine and Eric Lindros also had serious concussions during their careers and I don’t think at the time we realized the extent of our injuries. All three of us are very disappointed that our careers were cut short but I think we have been activists for this type of injury and I think that we were the first guys to really go through that type of stuff and have teams take notice and realize changes need to be made.”
After his health progressed and Bradley was able to get back to his day-to-day routine, the Kitchener, Ontario native stepped into a different role with the Lightning.
“I took a year or two off and laid back because my injury was severe,” Bradley said. “I couldn’t even come to many games because the noise in the building would bring my symptoms back. After I got healthy again I got back involved with the team doing TV and radio appearances. In 2004 when the Bolts won the cup, I was covering games on Sun Sports TV and that was a great role.
“Shortly after, my role changed from TV personality to a community relations role with the team where I would help out with youth hockey clinics around the city. I now work with kids programs and at high school hockey clinics as well as guest speaking at banquets and functions at different events around the city. I love giving back to the community and I am very fortunate I got involved in this role.”
An original member of the Lightning family, Bradley has been involved in the Bolts organization for more than 20 years now and doesn’t plan on leaving, though he hopes he can get more involved on the hockey side of things.
“Going forward, I would love to get involved in hockey operations,” Bradley said. “I love being involved with the Lightning and this is the only place my family knows. My kids were born here and it is such a beautiful place to live. If you look at Mr. Vinik and our ownership group and where it is today compared to where it used to be, I mean it’s a drastic change. The ownership group is so committed to a winning environment and it is really great to see.
“When I look back to that day on the golf course, I think how different my life would have been if Tampa didn’t pick me,” Bradley said. “Fast forward 20 years later and I am still here, not bad, eh.”
Not bad at all Brian, not bad at all.
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