Former Seattle Thunderbirds defenseman Brenden Dillon is looking to make the most of his call up to the Dallas Stars during this shortened NHL season. Dillon, who spent four years with the T-Birds, transitioned to Dallas' AHL team in Austin after impressing Stars' management at training camp (Brenden was not drafted, but invited to take part in camp following a strong final season with the T-Birds). Nine goals and 34 assists later, Dillon received the call every minor leaguer dreams of – and has worked hard to seal his position in Dallas' lineup.
Brenden Dillon celebrates what would turn out to be the game-winning goal for the Dallas Stars in Vancouver on Friday, Feb. 15. Photo: Rich Lam/Getty Images
Brenden celebrated his first NHL goal on February 1st, in a hard-fought 4-3 victory over the Phoenix Coyotes. He also scored his first NHL assist and dropped the gloves during this game, earning him a “Gordie Howe Hat Trick.” Since then, he's scored two more goals, including a shot that turned out to be the game winner against the Canucks Friday night in Vancouver, in front of supportive family and friends, who traveled from nearby New Westminster to cheer him on.
Brenden recently sat down for a chat about his transition to the Texas Stars (Dallas' AHL affiliate based in Austin), where he scored 9 goals and 34 assists in 123 games from 2011-2012; being called up to Dallas, and what he learned during his years with the T-Birds. He also shared an interesting coincidence surrounding his first NHL goal and netting a Gordie Howe Hat Trick in that same game, and took time to answer some fan questions.
How's the season going so far?
BD: I think we're doing pretty well. We started off a little slow – maybe the expectations for ourselves were pretty high for this year with some of the guys we brought in, like Jaromir Jagr and Ray Whitney, just to name a few. We started off... lost a couple, but we've had some wins, had some injured guys come back like Derek Roy. Jagr was out for two games. I think things have been really good fur us and I'm really excited with our team moving forward.
How did you spend the lockout?
BD: I started in the American League (AHL) with Dallas' affiliate, the Texas Stars of Austin. It was really good for me to get my feet under myself, playing against elite players like Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Taylor Hall. It was as close to the NHL as it could be. It was great to get into game shape and get 30-35 games under my belt and come into camp for Dallas in the best shape I could.
1st NHL goal – any different preparation for that game (February 1 v. Phoenix)?
BD: I try to focus the same way every game. During the day: the same meal (pasta, chicken), get my nap during the day, tape my sticks the same way. I think this team asks different guys to contribute and help out at the end of the day and get the wins. That night, I was just trying to do the same things: put pucks on net, just try to play my game, which is to help the Dallas Stars be better. I think I was just keeping it simple. A puck kind of popped up to me up top and I took a slap shot. It found its way to the net. It's definitely one of those things where you have to get back to the bench and kind of pinch yourself and realize you just scored your first NHL goal. The guys were great about it.
Gordie Howe Hat Trick: History repeats itself
BD: The Gordie Howe Hat Trick: I made a hit on a guy going for the puck and the guy came from behind (and) jumped me. What's funny is my first WHL goal, when I was 17, was a Gordie Howe Hat Trick, against the Portland Winterhawks.
Where's the goal puck?
BD: They picked it up – the other guys came by and congratulated me after the game. The Captain (name) gave me the puck and shook my hand. I twas a pretty cool experience to have. That's going to be framed up on my wall.
Brenden Dillon shows off his first NHL goal puck (Photo: Brenden Dillon)
Transition from the WHL to the AHL
BD: During my time in Seattle, I learned so much from so many good people. Those four years I spent there were unbelievable. My last year, I wanted to focus on being a better hockey player and being a good guy for some of the younger players and just learn how to be a good teammate as well. That's one thing that helped me get to the upper levels. In the pros, there's guys being called up (to the NHL) and being sent down every single day. There's a core nucleus of guys that you're with every day, but just getting to know the older guys that have families and kids and wives, going from that aspect of of juniors to professional hockey is something that you have to deal with. Being the young guy coming in, it's not “whose house are we going out to tonight to play xBox?” It's focusing on playing hockey at the pro level and making sure you're eating right, sleeping right and doing things to make yourself a better player.
Living with a host family – to living on your own
BD: Taking care of yourself away from the rink is such a big part of hockey. In juniors, you kind of take that for granted. When you come home from practice, there's lunch and there's a fridge full of food. When you come home at the end of the day, there's dinner on the table and the TV – all you have to do is turn it on. You don't have to worry about paying the cable bill and setting up the internet and going out to the grocery store and doing your own laundry. There's definitely a lot of this in your first year of pro. Last year in the AHL, I definitely learned how to take care of myself and mature. You have no excuses. I had a roommate last year who was a Western League guy so we jumped into it pretty quickly. Now, getting up to the NHL level, I've had a chance to live with one of the players, Stephane Robidas. He, his wife and his kids have been awesome. It's definitely been a nice taste of getting a little bit of that “host family” feel, but you still take care of yourself because they have lives to take care of, too.
Dealing with temptations that come with playing pro hockey...
BD: The temptations are always there for a young person getting up to the NHL level. There's definitely a lot more people that come out of the woodwork trying to be your friend. You have to have a good head on your shoulders to understand what's right or wrong and especially with a shortened season this year, I'm learning that there's not much free time. When we're home there's gotta be time to catch up on sleep from travel. I'm learning to have that, living at the Robidas household. They keep me level and to learn from a defenseman like that and to play with him this year has been great.
Questions from T-Birds fans:
1.Do you keep up with any current or former T-Birds?
BD: I do – my roommate from Juniors, Colin Jacobs. He's no longer a T-Bird (now with Prince George) but I keep in touch with him. I lived with him for three years so I got to know him very well. Guys like Luke Lockhart who I played with and know from back home – I talk with him every now and then. I talk with Calvin Pickard (now in the Colorado Avalanche system). I definitely try to keep in touch with guys and I was actually down for training camp this year in Seattle and skated with the guys a couple of days. They're (the T-Birds) my roots and you can't forget where you came from.
2.Did you receive any advice from T-Birds Head Coach (and former NHL defenseman) Steve Konowalchuk?
BD: I got to know Steve in the short time he was there (when Brenden was there). He was supportive, very optimistic and great with helping me with little things. His advice: don't go in there and take anything for granted. You've just gotta go in and play to your strengths. Do go in there thinking you're Sidney Crosby. Don't try to be something you're not. I just want to come in this year and heed those words. They're good lessons. He had a really successful NHL career when he played.
3.What kind of workout do you do?
BD: During the season, it's more maintenance stuff (in the gym); your typical legs, squats and lots of core work. It's tough to work out super hard because playing so many games, you don't want to be sore after a hard workout. Summertime is the main bulk of working out – Mondays through Fridays, sometimes Mondays through Saturdays. Lots of cardio work in addition to body work.
4.What's your favorite pre-game meal? Has it changed over the years?
BD: When I'm at home, I always have the same pre-game meal. When I was in Austin cooking last year, I would have two chicken breasts and whole wheat pasta and spinach salad. Ever since I got to Dallas, all of the guys go for a pre-game meal together at a place downtown by the rink. I forget what the meal is but it's a bit fancier. Once I find something I like, I stick to that.
5.Do you have any pre-game rituals?
BD: I don't think I'm too “weirdo guy” with that stuff. I've definitely seen a whole bunch of things, but here's the stuff I'll share with you:
I go to the rink at the same time – about half an hour before we're supposed to be there.
I tape all three of my sticks.
I have my meal, then nap, then have a peanut butter and banana sandwich before I change out of my suit every game.
Once I'm there (at the rink), I go to our team meeting, play a little soccer with the guys.
See, nothing too weird or out of the ordinary (laughs).
6.What's on your iPod?
BD: Almost everything under the sun. I love country and rap. I've got a little bit of rock. I started playing guitar this year. I bought a guitar and am taking lessons, so I started getting into a little bit of alternative guitar kind of music. I've got everything from Taylor Swift to Lil Wayne, to Eric Church. I have about 3,000-4,000 songs.
6a. Any “go to” songs to pump you up?
BD: I don't have a “go-to” song. I have a playlist on my iPod of 5-10 songs. I usually turn to a mix of dance and upbeat tunes to get me going.
7.Are you a cake or cupcake type of person? What's your favorite flavor?
BD: I'm not too big of a sweets guy. I try to stay away from cakes and cupcakes and candy, but I guess if I had to choose, I wouldn't mind a little red velvet cupcake. My billets in Seattle, when I lived in Black Diamond, always had those red velvet cupcakes from Costco. One or two would always seem to go missing whenever they had them in the house (chuckles).
7a. What kinds of healthy snacks do you like?
BD: Dallas' trainer hooked me up with Gary Roberts High Intensity Training out in Ontario. I went out there for 8 weeks during the summer. I lived out there and trained with him. I got to know a couple of “do's” and “don'ts” of eating. I learned about water and how important good food is for you, especially athletes. Ever since going to that, I've been very good, especially with buying my own food and going grocery shopping, to stay as healthy as I can. Little things like having granola bards instead of candy bars, water over pop. I try to make the healthier choice.
Catch Brenden in action with the Stars tonight (Sunday, February 17) versus the Calgary Flames. Catch the T-Birds in action tonight at ShoWare Center versus the Vancouver Giants. The puck drops at 5:05pm.