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Photo Credit: cory hergott

Checking In With Utica Comets Rookie Defender Brogan Rafferty

11 Minutes With Brogan Rafferty

The Vancouver Canucks inked defenceman Brogan Rafferty as an undrafted, unrestricted free agent out of Quinnipiac of the NCAA near the end of the 2018/19 season. The 6’2″, 195lbs, right-shot defender from Dundee Illinois was held pointless in his two-game audition with the Canucks but he did not look out of place on the NHL ice surface.

He was re-signed to a two-year deal by the team this offseason that sees him collecting a two-way paycheck this year, ($700K at the NHL level/$125K in the AHL according to CapFriendly). Next season, his pact swaps over to a one-way deal that pays him $700K whether he’s playing NHL minutes or plying his trade in the AHL with the Comets again. Fellow rookie blueliner Josh Teves signed the same deal.

At the time of this writing, Rafferty is 22 games into his AHL career, so I thought it would be a good time to check in with him to see how his season is going. Rafferty is currently the AHL’s top-scoring rookie defender and sits fifth amongst all defensemen in league scoring.

With 22 games played, Brogan has picked up two goals and 14 assists to give himself 16 points in 22 games so far this season. That has him on pace for 55 points. For reference, the Comets record for points in a single season by a defenceman is 40, put up by Bobby Sanguinetti in the 2014/15 season.

I asked Brogan how it felt to step into the league and be putting up those types of numbers already.

“It feels good! I’m not thinking too much about it, I’m just trying to improve every game here… but it’s pretty cool to be on pace for something that special.”

We saw last season just how tough it can be for players who are getting their feet wet at the pro level as Kole Lind and Jonah Gadjovich struggled early on with the pace of play and the jump in competition. I wanted to know what Brogan saw as the biggest adjustment for him with making the jump to pro hockey from the college level.

“I think it’s just the size and speed of everyone at this level, and everyone at this level is a really smart hockey player and can make plays… so the biggest adjustment for me has been the size and speed of the players.”

Brogan spent his previous three seasons with Quinnipiac of the NCAA and saw 40, 38, and 38 regular-season games respectively over each of those campaigns. The Comets play a 76 game regular season and I wanted to ask Brogan what kinds of steps are being taken to ensure that he will be fresh in the second half.

“Yeah, we have a really big emphasis on mobility days and stretching, and maintaining your body and not just beating it down every day with the workouts. We’re conscious about how we’re feeling when we wake up in the morning and our strength coaches and coaching staff adjust the schedule accordingly with that so we are healthy for the long run, and try to prevent those injuries from happening. 

It’s such a long season. Most of it is on the player, you know, watching your nutrition and doing the extra things every day to take care of your body so you’re ready to go the next day. It’s a long season and we’re 22 games in and already have a couple of injuries on our team. It’s just about limiting those injuries and coming back stronger than you were before.”

There are differences off the ice for new players in any league, so I thought I’d ask Rafferty what the biggest change has been for him away from the rink this year.

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“I have a lot more free time. I don’t have homework to do anymore, which is nice. The biggest difference for me? I don’t know, you’re just not as busy as you were in college, so you’re focused on hockey all the time. You can spend more time at the rink than you could in college… just be a real professional about the game.

In college I had a ton of homework, classes, obligations to go to. Here, it’s just a community event every now and then. Other than that, it’s hanging out with your teammates and getting ready for the next day, honestly.”

The hanging out with your teammates portion of that response led to me ask Brogan who he tends to hang with away from the rink.

“All the younger guys hangout. I mean, it’s pretty standard. I hang out with Kole Lind, Josh Teves, and Mitch Eliot a good amount. Seamus Malone and Mikey DiPietro are in there as well. 

No, I mean, all the young guys hang out and we have a good time together. Some of the guys are married and have kids, so they have a lot more going on than we do, so we’re able to spend time together. I’m sure those guys did that too when they were young and entering pro for the first time. 

It’s been fun, we hang out together a lot off the ice and have gotten to become really close friends.”

We spoke earlier about the biggest difference in Brogan’s quality of competition this year, but I also wondered how his quality of teammate has been different for him this season. Every time a player takes a step to the next level, there are bound to be some differences across the board. To his credit, Brogan was quick to ensure that I knew he wasn’t speaking negatively about NCAA hockey in any way and that he loved his time in Quinnipiac.

“Yeah, I don’t want to beat a dead horse about the difference. I mean, I’m not trying to make college hockey sound inferior, it’s really good hockey, but we’re at the professional level now.

I’ve played against a lot of these guys before in college and most of them were the best on their team, so the quality of players has definitely improved. I think that’s helped me a lot this year. 

You have guys who can make plays in certain situations that I’ve never seen before, so it’s really good to see and fun to be a part of. To play with players like that who can make plays out of nowhere is pretty special.”

For the bulk of this season, Rafferty has been paired with Guillaume Brisebois on what has, in my opinion, been the Comets’ best duo. Rafferty is the team’s top-scoring defender and Brissbois sits second. The same goes for shots on net from the blueline. I asked Brogan about his pairing and what he feels has helped them succeed this season.

“Yeah, I mean, we have good chemistry together, The coaching staff obviously likes what they’ve seen from us playing together. I think we enjoy it just as much. 

I think we complement each other really well, communicate well, and pick up on things from each other and learn from our mistakes quickly. We’re good friends off the ice, so I think it just all comes together when we play a game. It’s just really fun to play with him.”

As I have mentioned, Brogan is off to a fantastic start to his season offensively. Part of that has to do with the fact that he sits third on the team in shots on goal behind Reid Boucher and Justin Bailey. Rafferty also has had no issues with jumping up into the play in the hunt for more offence. I asked Brogan why the offensive side of things seemed to be coming so easily for him early on.

“I don’t know. I just think it’s coming together for me a little bit. I mean, I’m getting really good support and advice from my coaching staff and our system that we play here encourages the defencemen to jump up into the rush, which gives me and the other defencemen on our team the green light to try to create offence. 

I mean, I don’t know, playing with confidence is probably one of the bigger aspects of my game and I think for any player in the league, if they’re having success or even if they’re not… they’re still confident that they’re a good hockey player.

It’s not cockiness, it’s just… you get to play with that confidence and that swagger. I’ve been on the end where you don’t have any confidence and you can’t get out of your own head. So I always choose to be confident, whether I’m playing a good game or a bad game, I know that I’ll bounce back or that I’ll keep it going. 

My game is largely based on confidence and that allows me to jump up into plays and try to create offence.”

I wanted to finish this interview off on a light note and pointed out a parallel that I found interesting between Brogan and former Canucks defender Kevin Bieksa.

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As you can see from the featured image for this article, Bieksa wore the numbers 25 and three during his time with the Canucks and that Brogan wore number three when he was up with the Canucks last year and wears number 25 with the Comets.

The similarities don’t end there as both defencemen joined the team after wrapping up their college careers, both shoot right and both played for the Canucks in their 24th year. I asked Brogan if wearing the same digits was by design or if it was just a nifty coincidence.

“No, I actually had no idea about that. I knew he was number three in Vancouver for the longest time, but I didn’t pick the number three when I got there. They just kind of assigned it to me and I was like, yeah, sure, three is fine.

No, 25 was the number that I wore in college. I think that’s pretty ironic how that sets up like that. Same age, out of college, same numbers. I knew he was number three but I didn’t know the other facts about him, but that’s pretty funny.”

Continuing on with the Bieksa theme, I finished off by telling Brogan that if he ever ended up dropping the mitts in a game and whipped out a Superman Punch that he would have the fans and media in Vancouver salivating.

For his part, Brogan laughed and said…

“I’ll keep that in mind!”

This was the second time that I’ve had the privilege of speaking with Brogan. He’s a bright, articulate young man who is a pleasure to chat with. It will be interesting to see if he can keep up the blistering pace that he is on as the season continues.

At 24-years-old, Brogan isn’t a “young” rookie in the AHL, but so far, he is proving to be a shrewd signing by the club and is looking like he could be forcing himself into the conversation for regular minutes in Vancouver as soon as the end of this season.

The Comets are back in action on Friday, December 6th at 7:00 pm Eastern/4:00 pm Pacific when the Bridgeport Sound Tigers come to town for game number 23 of the season. As always, CanucksArmy will have your pre and post-game reading.