Former National Hockey League player Brad Bombardir won a Stanley Cup with the New Jersey Devils in 2000. He brought the coveted trophy home that summer and will return next month for the 2022 Powell River Sports Hall of Fame induction ceremony as one of 10 new members to be enshrined.
Bombardir was born and raised here and called it the perfect little town to grow up in. In the wintertime, he was a diehard hockey player, and in the summer, he placed an equal focus on baseball. He said he always had a lot going on back then.
“It was a place you could certainly keep busy,” said Bombardir. “There were a lot of teams and a lot of young kids back then because the mill was up and running at full force. And it was a really neat and exciting, dynamic town to grow up in and be a part of.”
He started skating with a coach when he was three or four years old, fell in love with skating and, soon, hockey.
“I fell in love with the game, fell in love with how it felt, fell in love with the smell of the rink, I guess, but not the smell of the locker room; there’s a difference,” he said. “It’s so funny because I still enjoy walking into a rink, and I spent a lot of days and a lot of hours in rinks, and there’s just a certain smell to it, and a feel to it. I still remember that feeling from when I was a kid walking into the recreation complex.”
Bombardir started playing junior hockey at age 16 with the Powell River Paper Kings (since shortened to Kings), one year after the team moved to town from Delta in 1988. He said it was a great opportunity to advance his hockey skills and remain at home, although other leagues were interested in him at the time.
He was drafted 56th overall by Devils in the 1990 NHL Entry Draft, a shock he and his family didn’t see coming.
While in Vancouver one weekend, they decided to attend the draft, which was at BC Place, even though there were no expectations he would be drafted. At that point, he had never spoken with New Jersey about being drafted, not a phone call, nothing.
While Bombardir, his sister, mother and father sat in the stands, his name was called. It was a total surprise.
“It was quite the experience going down on the draft floor when all the other guys were there in suits and I’m in a t-shirt, Levi’s 501s and some boat shoes without socks on,” he said. “It was a little different.”
Afterward, his parents rushed him to a mall and bought him a suit.
Bombardir played with the Paper Kings for a year and a half before earning a scholarship to University of North Dakota.
During his university career, he played for Team Canada at the 1992 World Junior Hockey Championships.
“I remember growing up watching the World Junior Championships, and that was just so far beyond my scope,” he explained. “I never in my wildest dreams would have ever thought I would have the opportunity to even go to the camp, to be invited to something like that.”
He was more shocked when he made the team. Representing Canada is still one of his biggest career highlights.
Bombardir played NCAA Division 1 hockey at North Dakota for four years before spending the next six seasons with the Devils organization, the first three years in the minors in Albany, New York (American Hockey League). Only then he thought a chance to play in the NHL was possible.
“I was fortunate to have a good start to my rookie season in the minors, and I give a lot of credit to Robbie Ftorek, who was my head coach.”
Bombardir said when playing for junor, university, professional or national teams, a player needs three things: a great work ethic; a little bit of luck; and most importantly, someone to believe in you.
“I had a coach down there [Albany] who really believed in me,” he added. “He gave me every opportunity to get better, every opportunity to play every moment in games.”
In his rookie year playing for Albany River Rats, he and his team won the American Hockey League’s Calder Cup championship. Ironically, up until this point, he still wasn’t sure if hockey was his thing.
“That season, I felt that I finally would have a chance to play in the National Hockey League, and that was at age 22,” said Bombardir. “Everything else running up to that was maybe just shooting from the hip a little bit and just playing hockey.”
Shortly after, he joined the Devils and spent four seasons with the team, including the Stanley Cup triumph in 2000.
“That was eye-opening to me because it takes an incredible amount of will and emotion to get yourself to the edge of playing. It’s hard to explain, but like an emotional edge of getting right there because you have to be at such a high competitive level, both physically and emotionally, and have a willingness to sacrifice yourself physically.”
He was eventually traded to Minnesota Wild, where he spent four seasons, followed by part of one more campaign with Nashville Predators before retiring.
Post playing career
Bombardir has been living in Minnesota for the past 22 years with his wife and three children, working as director of player development for the Wild, overseeing development of drafted players for the organization.
With experience on both sides of the draft, he said he keeps a lifetime’s worth of knowledge with him when working with the players.
“The one thing I have learned in this job is that character is number one,” he added. “We’ve had players who I’ve had the opportunity to work with who are incredibly talented, incredibly gifted, but never made it. The guys who just have that character and are willing to work, willing to listen, they’re the ones who do make it.”
Bombardir made it to the highest level and achieved the ultimate prize in hockey along the way. On June 11 at Hap Parker Arena, where he suited up for the Paper Kings more than three decades ago, he will receive another honour: induction with the class of 2022 into the Powell River Sports Hall of Fame.