Brendan Brisson was 8 when he witnessed one of the most incredible moments in Olympic hockey history.
The Golden Knights prospect was in Vancouver on Feb. 28, 2010, for the gold-medal game between Canada and the United States. He was there when Sidney Crosby, whom he has known his entire life because Brisson’s father, Pat, represents him, scored the overtime goal that gave the home country a win.
Brisson has a chance to make memories of his own now. The sophomore right wing at the University of Michigan was one of 25 players named to the U.S. Olympic hockey roster this month, giving him a chance to represent his country on one of the world’s largest stages.
“Every time you get to wear (the U.S. jersey), I feel like your game steps up,” Brisson said. “You’re playing for your whole country. There’s such a big meaning behind it. Especially at the Olympic level, Olympic stage. Everybody watches. It’s just having that pride for Team USA. I can’t wait to wear it again.”
It didn’t appear Brisson, whom the Knights picked 29th overall in 2020, would have a chance to play in the Olympics.
The NHL, NHL Players’ Association and International Ice Hockey Federation reached a deal in September that cleared a path for the league to go to Beijing. Then, a COVID-19 spike hit. Games were postponed. Players got sick. The NHL decided it couldn’t afford to shut down the season for an additional three weeks to accommodate the Olympics.
When that happened Dec. 21, Brisson knew he had a chance. Michigan and U.S. teammate Matty Berniers said Brisson started messaging him as soon as the NHL pulled out.
Team USA reached a decision in a few weeks. Brisson got a text during the Wolverines’ sweep against Massachusetts on Jan. 8 and 9 telling him he made the team. So did Berniers and 13 other top college players.
“Words couldn’t really describe how pumped I was, how happy I was,” Brisson said. “It’s like when I got drafted and I committed to Michigan. It’s just all in the same boat.”
Brisson earned his way onto the roster with his play.
He was part of Team USA’s gold-medal winning World Junior roster in 2021, scoring two goals in seven games in a depth role. He also became one of college hockey’s most lethal offensive players this season.
Brisson has 16 goals and 15 assists in 28 games. He started out so hot, and his one-timer became so deadly, that his teammates started calling him “Little Ovi,” in reference to Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin.
It’s an ironic nickname given Brisson’s connection to Crosby, whose Pittsburgh Penguins have a long-standing rivalry with Washington. But Brisson has shown a knack for finding his spot in the faceoff circle like Ovechkin and banging goals home. He is tied for fourth in the NCAA in goals and eighth in points.
He also has worked on his skating and defensive game to make himself a more well-rounded player.
“Just my skating, I feel like, keeping my feet moving, it’s giving me more opportunities and chances to shoot the puck and score more,” Brisson said. “I feel like that’s been the biggest part, just my skating and my explosiveness and my strength in the corners.”
He hopes to put it on display in Beijing. He will have to build chemistry quickly with his new teammates, but he and Berniers said they wouldn’t mind playing together to make things easier.
They probably are going to be relied upon on a younger U.S. squad filled with high-upside players who are still developing. It will give Brisson the chance to show his country — and future NHL city — what he can do.
“I’m not part of the team yet, but I’m still part of the Vegas family,” Brisson said. “Just representing Vegas, playing for their fans as well, it’s something that’s going to be really cool. I can make a good impression of myself out there.”
Brendan Brisson file
Hometown: Manhattan Beach, Calif.
Position: Right wing
Draft: First round, 29th overall, in 2020 by Golden Knights
2021-22 stats (at Michigan): 16 goals, 15 assists in 28 games