Note: This piece was guest written by Tom Leonard and if he continues to work his connections from the Muskegon area, we’ll get him a proper byline, but for now, this is published under Tim Braun.
Hockey is a world of connections and great people. I recently had the privilege of chatting with one of those great people, Michigan Tech graduate and former hockey Husky, Brad Patterson.
My conversation with Patterson exposed me to some very interesting stories from the hockey world and underscored the importance of personal connections within the game. A wise man once said, “No matter what you do or accomplish in work, the most important things you take away are the relationships with the people you meet.” That spirit is clearly alive in hockey. I hope you find the many connections of Brad Patterson as interesting as I did.
Patterson graduated from MTU in 2002, and he was a four-time letter winner while playing for the Huskies from 1998 through 2002, which included him serving as team captain in his final two seasons. Patterson’s Tech connections begin right in his own family, as his father Colin Patterson had 95 points in 91 games at MTU from 1965 through 1967. He was an NCAA Champion in 1965. Additionally, his Uncle Al Patterson was a Husky from 1961 through 1964 and was an NCAA Champion in 1962 as well. Later I will discuss more about Colin and Al Patterson’s continued impact on hockey.
Patterson is currently in his third year as head coach of the USHL Youngstown Phantoms, and he was assistant coach with the Phantoms for the prior six seasons. The Phantoms, including current Husky Tommy Parrotino, went all the way to the Clark Cup Final last season. After a slow start this year, the Phantoms are rapidly improving and are in the thick of the playoff race.
For those not familiar with the USHL, it is the highest level of junior hockey in the world that still allows players to maintain their eligibility to play NCAA Division I hockey. Many MTU players, past and present, have honed their skills in the USHL, as well as many star NHL players. Auston Matthews, Johnny Gaudreau, Jack Eichel, Dylan Larkin, Jimmy Howard, Thomas Vanek and MTU grads Blake Pietila, Tanner Kero and Joel L’Esperance all played in the USHL. The level of play is extremely high, and Patterson has shown a consistent ability to develop players and allow for their advancement to higher levels of play.
Patterson pointed out the high level of parity in the USHL and explained how the top teams have players that could make an immediate impact on any D1 college team. Nearly all regular USHL players eventually find roster spots in D1 hockey. In recent years the USHL has more players drafted by NHL teams than any other league in the world.
Patterson’s coaching philosophy is to build and develop a team that can push each other to get better on a daily basis while loving the process. “Sometimes that is coach pushing player, which should work both ways, eventually that is player pushing player. A Phantom is someone who can be accountable to that everyday and have positive energy doing it.”
Patterson had high praise for his assistant coaches Jeff Potter and Nick Peruzzi, and he simply sees them as “coaches” rather than assistants. He said both of them have been instrumental in the success of the program.
Patterson has a close personal connection to elite coaching. His father Colin has been a prominent teacher in hockey development in Canada and has been a life-long contributor to the game. Colin Patterson first started playing hockey locally in British Columbia, then as a player with MTU. He eventually moved into coaching, working at various levels and even coaching Canada’s Spengler Cup team.
Colin also wrote the lesson plan used by the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association (which is now called Hockey Canada). Colin Patterson’s older brother, (Brad’s uncle) Al Patterson, also played at MTU and has been involved in hockey leadership in Western Canada.
When discussing the recent success of Michigan Tech hockey, Patterson was quick to mention that Joe Shawhan’s team playing well is no surprise to anyone in the hockey world. “Seeing Joe have success is not a shocker to hockey people.” Though they never played or coached together or even against each other, Patterson was very familiar with Shawhan and immediately noted that he is a great hockey person for whom he has great respect. You might wonder how such a solid connection exists between people whose paths have not directly crossed. Patterson pointed out that USHL coaches have frequent contact with NCAA coaches, especially when current USHL players are committed to a school, such as how Parrotino was to MTU last year.
Patterson pointed out how this contact benefits both teams: “It’s a two-way street with these schools where they are calling about the prospects they have committed and are getting our take on the uncommitted players (as well). But they also may tell the junior team of a midget player they have committed.” From that, the junior team benefits, as they pick up knowledge of a player they may want to draft or perhaps offer a tryout.
Our conversation took place in Muskegon, MI on the day when Patterson’s Phantoms were preparing to defeat the USHL-leading Muskegon Lumberjacks 5 to 1. Patterson noted that he has a close connection to legendary Muskegon (professional) player and former USHL coach Todd Robinson. Patterson’s father Colin and Todd Robinson’s father grew up together in British Columbia, and the families spent time together in the summers. These hockey connections exist in unexpected places.
The connections in Muskegon don’t end with Patterson and Robinson. Ryan Bennett, the GM of the Muskegon Lumberjacks, was Patterson’s roommate while they played professional hockey before their days coaching and managing hockey teams.
Hockey connections persist even as the paths of life meander. Patterson was keeping in touch as his former pupil, Parrotino, scored the shootout winner and had an assist in Michigan Tech’s big win over Michigan in this year’s Great Lakes Invitational tournament. There was another unexpected connection there as well: the Phantoms were on the road at Cedar Rapids at the time, and the Cedar Rapids athletic trainer and equipment manager, Chris Ipson, was also on MTU’s staff while Patterson played at MTU. Ipsen and Patterson chatted and enjoyed the Huskies victory together.
As we talked about that GLI performance, Patterson commented on Parrotino: “He’s a tremendous hockey player and it’s going to be huge for the Tech faithful, but more importantly, he’s an awesome human being.”
Patterson noted how certain connections led him to MTU as well: “Aside from family members who went there, Riley Nelson, who was one of my best friends, was two years ahead of me and was already at Tech.”
Patterson noted that when you look back on things at Tech, many little things ended up being more special than you realized at the time, and you are never going to see some of it again. This included small things like the amount of snow, broomball, and winter carnival ice statues, as well as bigger things like the great University, the special connections with teammates, and his excellent professors. These are all things that have Patterson looking back fondly on his prior time in Houghton.
His father Colin had great connections and memories that were passed on to Brad as well, such as rooming with NHL Hockey Hall of Famer Tony Esposito and playing for legendary coach John MacInnes. As previously mentioned, Colin Patterson was a prolific player at MTU. The players back then were a tight-knit bunch, and the hockey team lived in some small buildings referred to as “the barracks.” These were a series of buildings along what is now Cliff Drive around the east end of campus, down the hill from today’s McNair Hall (formerly Co-Ed Hall). The times living in the Barracks were memorable for the players of that day.
Patterson recalls how, during his time at MTU, players lived on campus for two years, then in Daniel Heights for a year. During his final year in Houghton, several players rented a house on Canal Road near Oskar and Schmidt’s Corner. Patterson recalls what a beautiful place that was by the water and how he would swim in the cold waters of the Portage waterway “until the end of October even though it was freezing.”
As hockey players often do, they bonded by having fun with each other. One such time the hockey team was in Houghton when most of the students were not there, and a lot of snow fell (to nobody’s surprise). Some of the players piled about 13 feet of snow over some of their teammates’ door, forcing them to dig out to get out of their house. This gave them a good laugh and a chance to release some stress.
Patterson noted other connections to the Houghton/Hancock area as well. Brad’s father Colin played with Bob Mikesch, father of former MTU Assistant Coach Pat Mikesch. Brad met Pat, who was back in town after playing pro hockey, and used to invite the current players over for a barbeque. Brad was invited to spend time at Mikesch’s house from time to time, so they got to connect on a multi-generational level even outside the game of hockey. Now there is even another connection, as Pat Mikesch is now the head coach for the Phantoms’ USHL rival Green Bay Gamblers.
Patterson also played professional hockey for a short while in Youngstown before the USHL formed a team there. It was at that time he made his most important connection: he met his future wife there. This helps make Youngstown a great home for him.
There are even connections with people from the opposing sides of rivalries. Patterson noted that even though the rivalries never go away, a connection is formed, because you know the players from other teams have been through what you have experienced. For example, Scott Beattie was from the same Kootenays area of British Columbia as Patterson and was an outstanding player and even became a Hobey Baker finalist with NMU. It was Beattie who helped Patterson get connected and land his first professional playing contract. Patterson went on to play eight seasons of pro hockey in various locations in North America and Europe and was always interested in playing in new places.
Patterson has had chances to make moves in the hockey world at the professional and collegiate levels. He is careful in weighing these decisions, though, because Youngstown is such an ideal place for his family, and the Phantoms organization is outstanding from the top down. Patterson even gets to work with former NHL star Keith Primeau who is President of Hockey Operations for the Phantoms.
Patterson is still a young coach and already has a lifetime of connections, and I thank him tremendously for sharing his time and wisdom with Tech Hockey Guide readers. Thank you for being a Husky, Brad!
Featured Image of Brad Patterson from 2002 courtesy of Michigan Tech Athletics