GILBERT BRULE: READY TO BOUNCE BACK?

Robin Brownlee
September 08 2011 02:30PM

With a sound mind and body, might Gilbert Brule put his struggles of last season behind him and play his way back into the plans of the Edmonton Oilers in 2011-12?

Brule enjoyed the benefit of neither last season. He battled nagging injuries -- a sprained ankle, a concussion and a bruised spleen -- that had him in and out of the line-up and limited him to 41 games. He also wrestled with off-ice issues and family matters that weighed heavily on his mind.

The combination not only prompted speculation by fans and media alike about what might be wrong with the 24-year-old forward, it wiped away all the gains made during what many considered a break-out year in 2009-10, when he scored 17-20-37 in just 65 games. Brule had just seven goals and nine points.

Brule went from being perceived as kid who was finally living up to the reputation that saw Columbus select him sixth overall in the 2005 Entry Draft to something of an afterthought with many fans as they tried to figure out where, and if, he fits in with an Oilers team -- he was supposed to be part of the trade with Los Angeles that brought Ryan Smyth back to Edmonton -- that is laden with young talent at forward.

So, that opening paragraph is a question worth asking -- if Brule has his head on straight and can stay healthy, does he have a chance to bounce back and make himself part of the plans again?

DIFFICULT TIMES

"Everyone has their issues, right? This was stuff that was between my family," Brule said in an interview with Jim Matheson and I at Kinsmen Arenas today. "Things like that.

"It was all new to me, so it was kind of just thrown on my plate and I was dealing with it as I was trying to deal with it as I was trying to deal with a very stressful hockey season. It was very tough, especially with all the injuries I had as well on top of that. It just all kind of weighed down on me pretty heavily last year."

Given what Brule told me about his off-ice situation and that the subject of depression was prominent in the headlines this summer after the suicide of Rick Rypien last month, I asked him if depression was an issue with him, and if he's been treated for it.

"The things that I had to go through with my family were very, very tough and I would never wish this upon anyone, honestly," Brule said.

"It definitely affected me in a very negative way and I was not feeling very good about myself. That's why I wanted to start talking to these people because I'm a good athlete and I'm a good hockey player and I need to be reminded of that and be reassured and have confidence in myself instead of just getting down on myself."

HEAD GAMES

"I wasn't missing hockey because of those things," he said. "It was mostly because of injuries or flu, whatever it was. Things like that. These things I've dealt with all last year with the doctors on our team.

"This summer, I saw a psychologist and a sports psychologist, so I'm trying to get that mental strength back that I kind of lost a little bit . . . I need to get back to that.

"I need to be reminded, to remember that I'm a good player, I was drafted in the first round and I can play. Under the right circumstances, I need to get a good chance and I need to play well and be confident in myself."

Compounding the injuries and the family distractions, Brule got down on himself because of his lack of success on the ice. Add it all up, and Brule made the choice to get help. It struck me that he looked and sounded like a brand new man when we chatted today.

WORST CRITIC

"I think I'm my worst critic," Brule said. "After every game, I'm the one saying I should have done this and that. This year, I'm working with a sports psychologist like crazy to just get away from that.

"I can't think like that. That thinking drags me down and just makes me think too much. After games, I've got to sort of, 'You know what, I didn't do those things right. That's not me. This is what I have to do.' That's it. I can't constantly be thinking all these thoughts. That's when you don't get sleep and it's just too much."

Brule is confident he's turned the corner and can pick up where he left off at the end of the 2009-10 season. Time, as it always does, will tell, but you hope for the best with a likeable kid like him.

"I feel great this year coming into camp," Brule said. "Even with all the stuff that happened this summer, I don't even think about it anymore. I'm thinking of it as a new slate for me.

"You know, maybe they (Oilers) aren't thinking that, but that's the way I'm going in thinking. I just have to put my best foot forward.

"I'm human. Everyone has issues, right? I think the Oilers have been great with me. They're treating me just like a regular person, they're not treating me like I'm some crazy whatever . . . they've been very good with me and very patient, which I respect."

Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.

Aceb4a1816f5fa09879a023b07d1a9b4
A sports writer since 1983, including stints at The Edmonton Journal and The Sun 1989-2007, I happily co-host the Jason Gregor Show on TSN 1260 twice a week and write when so inclined. Have the best damn lawn on the internet. Most important, I am Sam's dad. Follow me on Twitter at Robin_Brownlee. Or don't.
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#51 Mr. Pederson
September 08 2011, 08:25PM
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With all the baloney that's gone on in the hockey world this summer, I'd love to see Brule come back and have a great year. I wish him the best.

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#52 Eulers
September 08 2011, 08:34PM
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I have a soft spot for Brule and wish him all the best. Tough roster for him to crack right now though. Nice to have him on the 4th line and Lord knows we need extra NHL players for when the injuries inevitably come...

Where's the photoshop contest, Wanye? :P

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#53 ubermiguel
September 08 2011, 08:44PM
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Hopefully someday Brule will feel more comfortable talking about his mental health. No-one bats an eye talking about Pisani's colon but when dealing with mental issues everyone clams up?

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#54 Team Hall
September 08 2011, 09:10PM
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I am willing to bet Brule has a bounce back year. He has an incredible shot, and obvious skill, there is a reason he was drafted so highly. The mental game can really weigh players down, and it sounds like he has a clear head now, so he can focus on releasing that wicked shot. I bet he gets back to his 37 pts.

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#56 Dog Train
September 08 2011, 09:50PM
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I would like to see Brule turn it around and work his way back into the plans. Looking at the current roster, however, he has a big hill to climb and it`s tough to see who`s lineup spot he will nab.

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#57 Grumpy OM
September 08 2011, 09:56PM
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I have allways thought that GB could turn out to be a solid 3rd line guy. He might be in tough to be that with the Oil but I for one am really pulling for him. Good luck GB buy the comments in the article you have lots of us rooting for you,go out there have fun and I AM SURE your skills and desire will get you to where you want to go.

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#58 DSF
September 08 2011, 10:33PM
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Robin Brownlee wrote:

I don't think it's difficult to understand. I'm not saying it should be that way, but there's a big difference between what is and what should be when it comes to lots of things.

"Mental health" remains a difficult and often awkward subject to talk about, and especially to ask somebody about, because it's about as personal an issue as you can get.

I ask questions for a living and I tip-toed around it for a bit until I actually asked Brule if depression was an issue.

And kudos for that.And for Brule willing to talk about his issues.

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#59 Bank Shot
September 08 2011, 11:26PM
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I'm rooting for him, but I think he is pretty close to the end of the line as anything other then 4th line forward.

Was his 09-10 season breakout or fluke? I'm leaning towards the latter, and the math says the same.

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#60 Jason Gregor
September 09 2011, 12:03AM
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Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach wrote:

I wonder if what has happened this off-season is making guys realize maybe they should be talking about it?

I spoke with Brule on air today and he said he started speaking with a psychologist once the season ended. He was already talking with both of them well before the Rypien and Belak situations.

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#61 Wäx Män Riley
September 09 2011, 12:04AM
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Robin Brownlee wrote:

I don't think it's difficult to understand. I'm not saying it should be that way, but there's a big difference between what is and what should be when it comes to lots of things.

"Mental health" remains a difficult and often awkward subject to talk about, and especially to ask somebody about, because it's about as personal an issue as you can get.

I ask questions for a living and I tip-toed around it for a bit until I actually asked Brule if depression was an issue.

ubermiguel wrote:

Hopefully someday Brule will feel more comfortable talking about his mental health. No-one bats an eye talking about Pisani's colon but when dealing with mental issues everyone clams up?

It's really easy to say: "Ya, get over it." Or "Don't be such a pus*y, man up." etc...

This is part of the reason it's such a tough thing to talk about. A guy doesn't want to admit he can't deal with his "feelings."

As western society becomes less "macho" and more real, mental health will become easier to talk about and understand. We will understand how much both our conscious and subconscious are able to shape us and our(the) world.

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#62 Wäx Män Riley
September 09 2011, 12:14AM
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stevezie wrote:

I think a problem he might face is he is better than a 4th line center, and that looks like the only open spot here. Oh well, start at the beginning and keep going forward.

It wouldn't be the first time a player has played himself up in the lineup or played himself back into a career in the NHL as opposed to the SEL. I'd love to see it.

Also, if that is a problem, then it means the Oilers are quite a deeper team than last year, and the previous few years.

Hopefully, for him personally, he can play himself into a position to at the very worst play himself into a trade to a team that may have more room, and at the best(IMO), play so well that we HOIST THE CUP AND HE LEADS THE PARADE!

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#63 stevezie
September 09 2011, 12:45AM
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I don't know what his family issues are, and I don't think it's my business, but I don't think you need to be clinically depressed to have your work affected by serious family problems.

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#64 pelhem grenville
September 09 2011, 03:25AM
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... Capgeek lists Brules' salary both in the NHL & AHL as the same one point eight five mil per year... if he was to be 'sent' to play with OKC and if it was a body AND mind conditioning stint, would he need to clear waivers? He needs to get his game back.period.IF he can get it back in OKC and he returns to cover an injury he'll make better trade bait...now/? notsomuch he needs a good first half season outta the gate to find anything...best be done in the minors where he could re-invent himself maybe even mentor young Lander at the joys of small ice ...north american style

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#65 Tim S
September 09 2011, 05:41AM
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I don't see how people can be writing Brule off. 2 years ago he was a very effective player, and last year he showed flashes of that same player. I for 1 have huge questions about Omark, he scored 5 goals last year. Will Jones repeat? On a team that has been biten by the injury bug far to often, depth is never a bad thing.

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#66 e5realestate
September 09 2011, 07:57AM
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Glad to see this guy is calling Edmonton home again this year. The morning show on CFRN asked this week who will be the "Ryan Jones" this year as far as exceeding expectations - I would think that if you did a poll of Edmonton fans they would have Brule on the top of their list.

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#67 Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach
September 09 2011, 08:08AM
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@Jason Gregor

I caught that and was pleased how open he was.

Hopefully someone looks at Brule and realizes they aren't alone and goes for help.

When you going to Penticton?

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#68 OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F
September 09 2011, 08:14AM
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DSF wrote:

The only egg is on Tambellini's face.

Lombardi would have bought out Brule in a heartbeat but the NHL lawyers wouldn't approve the deal despite working late into the night trying to compensate for Tambellini's lack of forbearance.

What Lombardi got out of the deal was $6.5 million in free cap space with which he was able to acquire Mike Richards.

Even if Brule were able to score 20 I hardly doubt Lombardi would give a flying donut.

He's got 7 forwards (Kopitar, Williams, Gagne, Penner, Richards, Brown, Stoll) and two defensemen in Doughty and Johnson who can outscore Brule in their sleep with Loktionov, Toffoli, Vey and Weal on the way.

According to you anyways.

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#69 madjam
September 09 2011, 08:28AM
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Lombardi going to try and send Penner back to us for nothing ? Wouldn't that be his next move ? Then Penner and Brule ( on last year of their contracts) could bust out together with one of several youngsters and have banner years all around . Stick it to Lombo . Any one else like to see it ?

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#70 Mitch
September 09 2011, 08:55AM
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@Brownlee

It would be nice to see Brule healthy and provide a great competition in camp. I do feel there could be a top nine spot, also it pushes the guys ahead of him to be better. I like how he comes out and says he's had to deal with some off ice stuff, whatever it maybe that is completely his business, no fan really needs to know what these guys have going on outside hockey. Like he said were all human.

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#71 Gerald R. Ford
September 09 2011, 09:54AM
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I think the trade fiasco with the Kings will turn out to be a blessing in disguise. Once he gets his mind/body/soul all together in the right place, Brule will be a very decent asset for the Oil, in whatever way they want to capitalize on him. Honestly, though, after the horror of the summer of '11, if he's happier selling life insurance, or going back to school, or grooming poodles, I just wish the best for him. He's a pretty good hockey player. He's a very good young man.

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#72 Westcoastoil
September 09 2011, 10:21AM
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pelhem grenville wrote:

... Capgeek lists Brules' salary both in the NHL & AHL as the same one point eight five mil per year... if he was to be 'sent' to play with OKC and if it was a body AND mind conditioning stint, would he need to clear waivers? He needs to get his game back.period.IF he can get it back in OKC and he returns to cover an injury he'll make better trade bait...now/? notsomuch he needs a good first half season outta the gate to find anything...best be done in the minors where he could re-invent himself maybe even mentor young Lander at the joys of small ice ...north american style

Interesting point PG - who/when will be the first team to send someone down to the AHL on a conditioning stint when the conditioning is determined to be for mental health recovery vs. physical health recovery.

Brule may be a perfect example of a player who may benefit from going down to find his game by dominating at a lower level. This opens a huge can of worms for the waiver situation as some teams may try to use mental health conditioning as a loophole to avoid waivers. On the flip side with all that has happened this summer, the league has no choice but to support that argument from a team.

It could give a team the chance to bring someone up who is playing well by sending a guy down who is struggling with his confidence, without the risk of waivers. It may also buy a team (such as Edm.) the time to work out a trade after evaluating a player coming out of camp.

Obviously, this tactic would be frowned upon, but that doesn't mean it wouldn't be done.

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#73 RexLibris
September 09 2011, 10:26AM
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I think Brule is becoming one of those players in Edmonton that, like Pisani, he could even wear the Flaming C and we'd still cheer like hell for him because he shows you that he's trying like heck every shift. His combination of back luck and hard work is something that Edmontonians find quite easy to empathize with.

Personally, I'd love it if he can have another good year. I would like to trade him at the deadline to a team that can find a place for him (Detroit always does well with these guys, and somewhere like Tampa Bay might be a good fit) and get something in return, but otherwise I just hope he has a good year and gets his career on track so that he can sign somewhere in the summer and have a good long run in the NHL. I think we're too deep at his position right now for him to stay, but I know I'll be waving his flag no matter where he lands. Even (ugh) if it's Calgary.

I am glad he came out and spoke about fighting depression. As sickening as it has been to watch players lose their lives this summer, I can only hope that their loss serves a purpose by showing the rest of the players that being tough-as-nails doesn't make you impervious to things like the mental health issues in society. Funny how nobody would bat an eye if a player had to take insulin or heart medication, but if he's on antidepressants we won't talk about it. The brain is an organ like any other, and with all the talk about concussions it seems like the NHL and PA should be prying open the doors of conversation on that aspect of player health.

I liked Laraque's proposal of a committee of ex-enforcers who would be available to talk to players about mental health issues in order to make them feel more comfortable.

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#74 pelhem grenville
September 09 2011, 10:45AM
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westcoastoil...it's as little clearer for me but i was under the impression that there is a conditioning stint 'clause' that can be had by NHL players that are coming off an 'injury'...Brule could be considered that type of player needing conditioning ... the mental health issues need to be winkwink nudgenudge'd away given all the tragedy the leagues' PA has had to go through this off season... i guess what i'm saying is it really doesn't need to be a can of worms ...

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#75 TheDarkestOne
September 09 2011, 11:14AM
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IF* Brule can find his groove, I believe he can be our version of Marchand. The only difference I can see between the two players is confidence. Both have pedigree, can skate, hit, shoot, score and agitate the p*ss out of you. Those are the kind of players you acquire, not give away too early.

He is a decent human being besides being a decent hockey player, so I have no problem cutting him some slack. With a little nurturing and patience, could he be LT's elusive "new Tikk"?

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#76 Dirk Dangler
September 09 2011, 12:07PM
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Long time reader, first time poster. Or fist time? I'm on the fence with that one. Just like to start out by saying thanks to everyone at ON for their hard work, and helping make long summer months seem a little more bearable. I digress...

I'm not convinced that Brule's ready to contribute to the betterment of the team. I think his story at this time is playing off of the optimism that comes with starting any new season with a clean slate. Personally I find it too convenient that we can so easily forget his disappointing season last year. Mental health is such a taboo subject, it renders the mass public unable to hold people accountable for their shortcomings. The bottom line for me is that Brule was a waste of a roster spot last year. And when the pressure is on during the season, as opposed to the bliss that is optimism in the summer months, I won't be convinced that he's more valuable than any of Gagner, RNH, Omark or Jones. Who essentially are his competition for opening night roster.

I'm sure Brule is a great guy. I don't know this personally, but this seems to be general consensus. Great guy or not, he is miles away from breakout candidate, or most improved, or MVP this season. Brule screams depth. That is all.

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#77 Westcoastoil
September 09 2011, 12:29PM
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@pelhem grenville

PG....I totally agree that the mental health issues should come forward as i think (in my humble non-professional opinion) that it would help other speak out and erase the stigma that can attach to it.

Perhaps in order to send a guy down for a conditioning stint for mental health reasons he has to be registered in advance with the league as receiving treatment, or something like that.

What hasn't been talked about is that some of the players' reluctance to speak up may be the unwillingness to open themselves up to trash talk on the ice. Like it or not there are players out there who will make in-game comments to get an edge on their opponent.

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#78 Archaeologuy
September 09 2011, 12:30PM
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@Dirk Dangler

Welcome to the dark side.

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#79 ubermiguel
September 09 2011, 01:03PM
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Wäx Män Riley wrote:

ubermiguel wrote:

Hopefully someday Brule will feel more comfortable talking about his mental health. No-one bats an eye talking about Pisani's colon but when dealing with mental issues everyone clams up?

It's really easy to say: "Ya, get over it." Or "Don't be such a pus*y, man up." etc...

This is part of the reason it's such a tough thing to talk about. A guy doesn't want to admit he can't deal with his "feelings."

As western society becomes less "macho" and more real, mental health will become easier to talk about and understand. We will understand how much both our conscious and subconscious are able to shape us and our(the) world.

Please don't read my comments as "ya get over it", that's the opposite of my meaning. I was lamenting about what "should be". Everyone needs to get over the stigma attached to mental illness. People in the public eye (like Brule) opening up about it would go a long way.

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#80 Rob...
September 09 2011, 01:15PM
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Somewhat related to both Brule and MSM asking questions for a living: Is anyone still hammering Tambi, or NHL reps, for what is going on with the Smyth trade? I can not believe that the grievance hasn't been settled already. Is there a "don't go there" rule in effect with interviews lately?

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#81 craigero
September 09 2011, 06:27PM
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Gilbert, Oilers Nation is behind you... Make us proud!

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#82 Wäx Män Riley
September 10 2011, 12:47PM
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ubermiguel wrote:

Please don't read my comments as "ya get over it", that's the opposite of my meaning. I was lamenting about what "should be". Everyone needs to get over the stigma attached to mental illness. People in the public eye (like Brule) opening up about it would go a long way.

Ooops...

...I didn't mean it to read that way. I was more so just adding to your point. I was just saying that there are challenges for many men to talk about their feelings.

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#83 Aaron
September 10 2011, 09:41PM
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This is for you Brewster and the rest of the pack. Accentuate the positive, erase the negative, affirm the affirmative, and don't mess with mister in between. What you recogonize you energize coverage on the importance of positive mental thinking should be a daily segment on 630 &1260. I think we would all agree that we could use our minds more effeciently. bring on the experts from all the sports. Lets do something worth listening to. I want a daily segment on mind science. As a man thinks so is he

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#84 Aaron
September 10 2011, 09:48PM
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This is for you Brewster and the rest of the pack. Accentuate the positive, erase the negative, affirm the affirmative, and don't mess with mister in between. What you recogonize you energize coverage on the importance of positive mental thinking should be a daily segment on 630 &1260. I think we would all agree that we could use our minds more effeciently. bring on the experts from all the sports. Lets do something worth listening to. I want a daily segment on mind science. As a man thinks so is he

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#85 Aaron
September 10 2011, 09:51PM
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This is for you Brewster and the rest of the pack. Accentuate the positive, erase the negative, affirm the affirmative, and don't mess with mister in between. What you recogonize you energize coverage on the importance of positive mental thinking should be a daily segment on 630 &1260. I think we would all agree that we could use our minds more effeciently. bring on the experts from all the sports. Lets do something worth listening to. I want a daily segment on mind science. As a man thinks so is he

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#86 Aaron
September 10 2011, 09:56PM
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You've got to accentuate the positive Eliminate the negative Latch onto the affirmative Don't mess with mister in-between Bing Crosby

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