Brett Stapley had just finished a dream senior season at the University of Denver. He set career highs in goals and points and won the NCAA championship, but after two seasons that were disrupted by COVID-19, he was faced with a unique decision.
Already finished his four years of eligibility, the NCAA allowed any athlete with a disrupted season an extra year so Stapley had the choice to return to school. His decision was to forego that option and sign an American Hockey League contract with the Laval Rocket for the 2022-23 season.
“I love the University of Denver, and I can’t thank them enough for everything for the past four years,” Stapley said. “But I feel like at this point in my hockey career, I’m ready to move on. I want to get better and I think moving to professional hockey is is this step for me to take.”
Over the summer, the 5’10” 23-year-old saw his NHL draft rights with the Montreal Canadiens expire. That, coupled with a front office change made it seem like his long-standing relationship with the Canadiens was over. Stapley went to two draft workouts with the Canadiens. One in his draft year in 2017, and one the next year in 2018 when he was eventually drafted in the seventh round of the 2018 NHL Draft in his second year of eligibility.
“Anytime you have a group of management that drafts you as a player to the team, and then there’s a complete change, where none of those guys are there anymore that definitely impacts you,” he said. Stapley said that throughout the entire year he was still in contact with Rob Ramage, and while everyone else was different, his immediate contact with the organization was the same.
Stapley still had to wait until late August to eventually sign his first professional contract, and while it was a big summer for him, it was a tough waiting game.
“It wasn’t actually as hectic as I expected,” Stapley said. “Teams are busy with the draft, and then they have other signings to deal with. And then they have to take a little time for their families, and, obviously, enjoy a little bit of their own offseason. It was tough to wait around that long, but I just kind of kept training and stayed hopeful.”
“Now I know where I’m going,” he said.
Even though he’s a member of the organization, he isn’t following the exact same route as Rafaël Harvey-Pinard, Joe Vrbetic, and Xavier Simoneau. When they signed their AHL contracts, the Canadiens still owned their NHL rights whereas Stapley is technically an NHL free agent.
Stapley is excited to take part in the upcoming rookie tournament in Buffalo later this month. As a player coming from the NCAA, it will be his first rookie camp experience. His previous NHL experience only came at the team’s summer development camp. He hasn’t been in his new AHL home arena yet, but has heard nothing but great things about Place Bell.
“From from my understanding, it’s a beautiful facility,” he said. “And there’s a ton of passionate fans. Anytime you hear that, as a hockey player, you get pretty excited.”
The Canadiens start their rookie camp on September 14 at the Bell Sports Complex in Brossard before heading to Buffalo for their first of three games on September 15.