When hockey fans are debating who the fastest skaters in the NHL are, the first names that invariably come up are Pavel Bure, appropriately dubbed the “Russian Rocket,” and some of his former Soviet teammates such as Alexander Mogilny and Sergei Fedorov. Another name that usually surfaces is veteran Mike Gartner, who, despite his age, still ranks among the league’s swiftest skaters. Many fans may be surprised to learn that defenseman Bret Hedican, a native of St. Paul, MN, can keep pace with any of the NHL’s speed merchants.
So how long has Hedican possessed his superior skill? “While I don’t really remember it when I was younger, my parents remember that my skating was always my strong point. I began to notice it more in college and when I played on an Olympic-sized rink, where I had a little more room to move around. Since then, I’ve tried to work on it, as it is one of the assets of my game.”
High school wish
Hedican played for North St. Paul High School, which never advanced to the Minnesota State High School tournament while he played there, a dream for any hockey player youngster in Minnesota. Hedican commented, “You always look back and say, ‘I wish I had an opportunity to play in that.’ 15,000 fans turn out and the whole town shuts down for the tournament.” Despite his personal disappointment, Hedican was selected in the 10th round of the 1988 Entry Draft by the St. Louis Blues following his senior season at North St. Paul.
Hedican then chose to play hockey for St. Cloud State University for a very good reason. “I was talking to a couple of schools, but St. Cloud was the only one to offer me a scholarship, so I took it. It was a great opportunity to turn the program around, as they were bringing in 10 freshmen. We (his teammates) said that to each other, we stuck together and we had a good team while I was there.”
|Hedican went from Vancouver to Flordia in the Bure trade. ©BBS|
Hedican’s biggest break in his career came after his sophomore year at St. Cloud. “I had a decent year, and I was asked to play in the Olympic Festival in the Twin Cities. I ended up winning a Gold Medal. Then after my junior year, I was asked to play with the US National Team in a four-game tournament in the Soviet Union. I had basically the four best games of my career there. I think somebody was looking out for me at that time. The coaches of that team, primarily Dave Peterson, were the coaches of the Olympic Team. So, from there, they asked me to play for the National team leading up to the 1992 Olympics.”
Obviously, Hedican’s year with the Olympic Team also accelerated his path to the NHL. “The whole team we had that year was beneficial. You learn from playing with guys like Keith Tkaczuk, Bill Guerin, Scott Lachance, Ted Donato and Steve Heinze, guys who are now coming into their own. We all pushed each other that year, and made each other better players. One of the main things that elevates your game is competing against guys like that every day at practice. Without that opportunity to play on the Olympic Team, I wouldn’t be here today.”
No World Cup invite
Although he was not invited to play with Team USA in the World Cup last year, Bret has his eyes focused on the 1998 Olympic Games, when NHL players will be allowed to compete in the Olympics for the first time. “Although I didn’t play in the World Cup, I have some time and a lot of work to do leading up to the Olympics in ‘98. Making that team is definitely a goal of mine.”
Despite not being a member of the World Cup team, Bret was able to watch many of the games on TV. “It was a big accomplishment for USA Hockey. I was happy for a lot of those guys, many of which I played with back in ‘92. You look at North American hockey, and Canada has always been a dominating force. For us to come in and play so well and play their style of hockey and do it well was fun to watch.”
While most young hockey players play both forward and defense while they are growing up, Hedican has played defense his entire career. In fact, his coaches in both high school and college, attempting to take advantage of his skating skills and speed, experimented with moving Hedican up to forward. But as Bret recalls, “It just didn’t work. I just have never played the position growing up. I understand defense much better. My asset is seeing the whole ice and seeing the play develop in front on me and jumping up into the play.”
When asked how he developed his superior skating skills, Hedican responded, “A lot of times you have to thank your genes. I have two athletic parents, and maybe that had something to do with my speed. Growing up, I always worked on my stride. I remember working on my edges all the time and doing power skating drills. By working on your edges, you never turn your back to the puck. You work on keeping the front of your body towards the play. You have to be agile and mobile on your skates. You need to have your head up, your shoulders square, and work on your edges.”
Hedican, who attended power skating schools as a youngster, added, “Another thing was listening to what people had to say. Taking advantage of what people can tell you to improve you skating will always help you. As a young kid, I think I tried to do things that people told me to do. I had a couple of cousins that both played hockey at Michigan (State) University that I looked up to and I would watch them skate. When you imitate other players as a young kid, you put that into your brain how you want to skate and I think that’s how my style progressed.”