Though he didn’t know for certain, Brady Birnie had a feeling the Swift Current Broncos were going to call his name with the 21st overall pick in the 2020 WHL Prospects Draft.
“They were definitely one of the teams that was calling me the most,” Birnie said. “They seemed like they were one of the teams that was very interested in me, which made me very interested in them. They didn’t tell me they were taking me at 21, but they asked a lot of questions and I had a pretty good feeling that’s where I might be going.”
Considering his 128 points in just 31 games during the 2019-20 season, it’s not surprising that 21 of the 22 WHL teams talked to Birnie throughout his torrid campaign with the U15 Regina Monarchs.
Before seeing his name called, Birnie had some excitement when his teammate, Sam Oremba, was drafted seventh overall by the Seattle Thunderbirds.
“It was amazing to see Sam go that early in the draft,” he said. “We’ve been best friends our whole lives and played together for a long time. It was a proud moment to see his dream come true.”
With the 21st overall pick approaching, the excitement at the Birnie residence started growing.
“When it got around to the 15th area, we started getting ready for it,” Birnie admitted. “There was some cheering and my dad got a little emotional. There were phones going off everywhere, his ringer was on so his phone was dinging non-stop while he was wiping tears away.”
Growing up in Regina, and being a Pats fan, Birnie admits he didn’t know much about the Broncos organization at the time.
With the anticipation of playing at the U18 level for the Regina Pat Canadians in the 2020-21 season, Birnie ramped up his training as best he could with Covid restrictions in place throughout the summer.
“We had to wait so long to finally play and then we finally got to take the ice, our first period was a little sloppy but we picked it up,” he said. “There were some nerves heading into the game, but it was mostly just excitement to get back to playing.”
Birnie’s time at the U18 level was short, but effective as he scored four goals and added an assist in seven games before the season was shut down, eventually for good.
“[The transition] felt pretty good, I had a great team around me, great line mates and a great coaching staff which really helped me,” he said. “It was obviously sad when we got the news of being shut down because we were on a roll too, but the bubble happening after that definitely brought my mood up.”
The vast majority of WHL teams brought their top draft pick from the 2020 draft with them for the shortened 20-21 season, but there were no guarantees of Birnie joining the Broncos at the start.
“Swift Current reached out to me and told me it was a possibility,” Birnie recalled. “I didn’t sleep much that night because they told me they were going to make the decision that night. I woke up the next day and was just scrolling through Instagram when I got a text from Andrew (Kutnikoff, Broncos athletic therapist) asking for my equipment size. My mom was working in her office so I ran in and told her.”
That text came only about a week and a half before the teams were to converge upon the University of Regina for the season, so Birnie said he and his parents started frantically running around town to prepare him for the two-month stint.
Knowing only a handful of players on the roster before heading into the bubble, it’s easy to understand the nerves Birnie experienced on his way in.
“I tried to be the last person in line to check in,” Birnie said. “I wanted to meet everyone, but at the same time I was really nervous to do so. I ended up walking in with the Bulych brothers and they were great.”
Birnie had high praise for the other two 20-year-olds on the Broncos roster, Owen Williams and Michael Farren, who did their best to welcome him to the team.
“They’re both great guys who have been in the league and know what to expect,” he said. “They know how the league works and I think them doing that in a kind and respectful manner made it really easy for me.”
After a week of quarantine in the dorms at Luther College the Broncos were able to get on the ice for practice together for the first time in nearly a year.
After getting up to speed for the first practice, Birnie tried to keep himself as ready as possible for whenever the opportunity to get into the lineup came.
“I can’t remember if it was during morning skate or the day before, but Dean just told me to be ready,” Birnie recalled. “That was when we had all our injuries with our defencemen. I had that in my head and then we got to the rink and my jersey was hanging in the locker room, and that’s when my hands started shaking a little bit.”
That night was March 22 when the Broncos lined up against the Prince Albert Raiders for the first time, and with only four defencemen available due to injuries.
Despite the depleted back end, Swift Current won the game 5-2, their first win of the season.
“That was our first win and to be able to experience that in the room was so fun,” he said. “Seeing everyone in the room so happy, and we played a really good game that night too.”
Birnie would get into three more games throughout the hub season, saying each game felt more and more comfortable for him.
It also gave him a leg up on preparing to be a full-time WHL player for the 21-22 season.
“It helped me out a lot,” he said. “My training has changed to focus on what I need to improve on. I feel way more comfortable coming to camp in September knowing a lot of the guys and them knowing me, it’s just going to make it way easier.”
Looking to play every game for the Broncos next season, Birnie is prepared to play whatever role is necessary for him to help the organization.
“I’m just hoping to do whatever the team needs me to do the help us win some games and hopefully we can make the playoffs.”