(By Ben Phillips for BCHL communications)
From being the captain of the Vernon Vipers during his senior year in 2016-17 to Male Athlete of the Year in his rookie season at Royal Military College (RMC) it has been a high ride for Riley Brandt.
The Trail, B.C. native wasn’t necessarily known for his scoring touch during his four years in the BCHL, posting a career season in 2015-16 of 15 goals and 16 assists in 53 games.
He blossomed into an offensive force this season at RMC for the Paladins, leading the nation with 21 goals in a 28-game season.
“In Vernon I was more of a grinder kinda guy, go out there and fire up the team,” said Brandt. “This year I didn’t really try and change anything, I just tried to adapt my game and shoot the puck more and it seemed to work out for me.”
Brandt’s 33-point freshman campaign led RMC and earned him the Tommy Smart Cup, which is awarded annually to the top male athlete at RMC. Brandt is also the first rookie to win the award since 2001. It’s an honour he isn’t taking lightly.
“It’s definitely a prestigious award,” said Brandt. “It means a lot especially since there are so many great athlete’s that work hard for RMC, so I’m definitely happy I was able to win the award.”
The decision for Brandt to go to RMC this year became clear once he got an invite from head coach Richard Lim during his final year with the Vipers. Brandt was invited out to watch the Paladins take on their crosstown rival the Queen’s University Gaels in the annual Carr-Harris Cup, the oldest hockey rivalry in the world dating back to March of 1886.
“I had heard from a few people in B.C. that Riley was definitely a guy I would like as a coach,” said Lim. “We brought him out to watch our Carr-Harris game and I was instantly drawn to him by his maturity and leadership.”
Brandt was already having a stellar season when the 2018 Carr-Harris came along and the 5-foot-8, 195-pound forward starred in the game, scoring twice and adding an assist in a 6-5 loss.
Lim said that while watching some of Brandt’s games he noticed his offensive upside, a role he didn’t need to play in an already offensively charged Vernon Vipers lineup. During their early meetings, Lim said he wanted Brandt to be a top-six forward and provide some scoring for them, a role that changed and grew as the season went on.
“He took his opportunity and ran with it,” said Lim. “Riley had that opportunity to be an offensive guy; once he got adjusted to the pace and the school life he took off. The net was like a soccer net for him this year and we are really glad everything worked out.”
Now that the season is over, the team has eyes on next year and the playoffs. RMC finished the year with a record of 7-16-5, just one win outside a playoff spot. Lim says the offseason emphasis for Brandt is making sure the work ethic stays. Next year his talents won’t be a surprise to anyone and he needs to expect to face the opponents best defensive pairings. Lim said that while winning a major school award is nice, Brandt won’t let it distract him from the team’s goals.
“For Riley to win that award (Tommy Smart Cup) is pretty special; it just added to his plate of accolades,” said Lim. “The great thing about Riley and why he is such a great leader is he’s super humble. I know Riley really appreciates all those awards but as a coach as a teammate you’d never know if you saw Riley walking down the hall that he had a basket full of trophies he’d taken home this summer. It’s definitely something he can build on but it won’t change who he is or how he prepares for next season.”