His team may be last in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League standings, but you won’t hear a world of complaint from Brayden Cuthbert.
The Neepawa Natives forward is happy to be playing at all after what he’s gone through to get to this point.
Cuthbert, who turned 19 last month, was a rookie with the Western Hockey League’s Moose Jaw Warriors two years ago when a hit by Red Deer Rebels defenceman Matt Dumba left the Brandonite with a concussion that would keep him off the ice for the better part of a year and a half.
The following season, he attempted a comeback with the Warriors that was derailed by the return of his symptoms and, after staying with Moose Jaw until the beginning of the WHL season last fall, he joined the Natives to try and rediscover his confidence in the MJHL.
So far, the season has been a smashing success both in terms of his health and his game. Cuthbert has played in 46 of Neepawa’s 48 games since his arrival and sits tied for second in team scoring with 34 points, including 12 goals.
"In a sense, you could say it’s a dream come true because that’s all I thought it was at one point would be a dream to play hockey again," Cuthbert said. "… I had a lot of people thinking it wasn’t going to (happen), including myself. And to turn around and play in Junior A hockey and at the level I am, I’m ecstatic."
Certainly there were times it would have been easier to give up on competitive hockey. But it’s an option that Cuthbert never seriously considered as he wanted to leave the game on his own terms, rather than have that dictated to him by an injury.
"I was living my childhood dream, playing in the Western Hockey League as a 16-year-old, I played in the under-17 World Challenge and everything just came together real good, real quick and then I just had it taken away from me," he said. "I really only got a taste of what it was like to play that calibre of hockey and I just wanted to get back there at any cost."
The Natives have been impressed with Cuthbert’s professionalism and his attention to detail. He admits that it took him longer to get used to that side of the game rather than the action itself.
"I think the biggest thing for me was just getting ready, getting back into your pre-game routine," said Cuthbert, who had two assists in his first game with the Natives. "You’re digging into the vault almost. You haven’t done those things that we do night in, night out, for two years. And just to be sitting there and lacing up your skates is just an amazing feeling.
"And then, obviously, I was very, very nervous, but when I got out on the ice I played well and just sort of went from there."
Perhaps being grateful he is simply back on the ice has made it easier for Cuthbert to weather the Natives’ 12-33-5 recordthis season, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he accepts it. Insteads he chooses to focus on what the future may hold for the team.
"You always want to win no matter what you’re doing; it’s the competitive nature in you," he said. "But we have a great group of guys in the locker-room that want to give it 100 per cent no matter what. And just looking to the future, we’re not really losing a whole lot of players. We only have three 20-year-olds so … with a team that’s really building for next year, it’s hard to stay down."