Kyle Brodziak played 974 National Hockey League regular season and playoff games. He fulfilled his NHL dream, and exceeded his own expectations, but his father never saw him play. Dale Anthony Brodziak passed away on June 14th, 1998. He was 42 years young. He died after battling cancer for many years.
Kyle was only 14 years old when he lost his father.
He played four seasons in the Western Hockey League, three in the American Hockey League and 12 in the NHL, and never once got to look in the crowd to see his father’s smiling face. Luckily his mother, Marielle, was always there. She was a rock for Kyle and his siblings, and later on his step-father, Brian Soldan, was a solid, loving presence, but not having Dale around for much of his hockey life left a void.
It has been almost 23 years since Dale passed, and Kyle will honour his father by playing in the World’s Longest Hockey Game starting February 4th, at Saiker’s Acres. Players start their quarantine this week. Forty players will play hockey outside for 252 consecutive hours. This is the seventh annual event, spearheaded by Dr. Brent Saik, and so far the WLGs have raised an amazing $5.47 million for leading edge equipment and research at the Cross Cancer Institute.
I was honoured to play in 2005, and I can attest it is grueling, especially if a cold-snap arrives, but it was also one of the coolest and most powerful events I’ve been a part of. Brodziak will play for the first time and this game will have a much deeper connection to his father than any of his NHL games.
“I have definitely always wondered what my Dad would’ve thought about my career in the NHL,” said Brodziak. “I always hoped he would’ve been proud, but it would have been nice to have his advice as I navigated my way through my career. There’s no doubt I will be thinking of him a lot more during this game though than I did my career, mainly because of the cause we are playing this game for. This game isn’t about me, or the team I’m playing on, this game is about raising money to potentially finding a cure for the disease that took my Dad away from my family. That is why he will be in my mind a lot during this game.”
Losing a parent, at any age, is difficult, but when you are a teenager it can be devastating. Kyle and his older sister Shauna and younger brother Ryan had to grow up quickly. Shauna was 16, Kyle was 14 and Ryan 10 when Dale passed. They all learned to deal with the loss, and they learned a lot from their father while he battled cancer.
“He had battled cancer for a handful of years, I’m not exactly sure how long to be honest,” said Kyle. “I do remember the toll it took on his body though. He seemed to have very drastic cycles of when he was looking and feeling good compared to when he wasn’t. He would not have much energy at all and looked very weak. What I remember most was his overall attitude regarding his fight. Not once did he ever let us believe he was going to give up. He always made us believe he was going to win his battle. As tough as that probably was, it was so important for us kids to see that, because we believed the whole way that he was going to make it too.”
One of the main responsibilities of being a father is to love your kids, but also show and teach them strength, perseverance and empathy. Kyle learned that from Dale and he is playing in this game not only to honour his father, and those battling cancer, but to lead by example for his three young boys, Lenny, Leo and Luca.
“I want to make sure my boys grow up knowing how important it is to help out when given the opportunity. I would like to show them and explain to them how difficult it is what we are going to be doing, and why we are doing this,” Brodziak said.
PLAYING THE GAME…
Brodziak hasn’t played a game of hockey since March 30th, 2019. That was his last NHL game against the Anaheim Ducks.
“I have not played any type of hockey, besides skating around a couple of times on the pond or outdoor rink in our yard,” said Brodziak. “I was on the ice coaching two of my boys this season until minor hockey was postponed, but that’s not really skating. I am sure my hands and feet are going to be very rusty.”
He is 36 years young, his back feels better (the reason he had to retire) so could he take a run at the WLG record for most goals in a game?
“What is the record for goals scored in this game?” he asked.
I reached out to Saik to see if there is an official record. “I have no clue. I know it wasn’t me. I think someone scored over 400 one year. Tell him it is 500 so he scores more and we raise more money,” said Saik,
Brodziak has already heard some chirps from his new teammates.
“I’ve been getting beaked on some of the group emails already. I might have to take a run at that record to keep some of these old timers quiet and let them know that while I may be retired, I still got some game left,” Brodziak said with a laugh.
Brodziak has known about the game for many years. Saik is the Oilers’ optometrist and Brodziak was on the Oilers in 2008 for the third edition of the WLG. Joining this year’s team came about quite quickly.
“A buddy of mine from Vegreville, Zenith Komarniski, asked me a couple of weeks ago if I was interested,” said Brodziak. “He has been trying to get in for a couple of years, and this year with COVID there were a bunch of open spots, so it worked out for him. I’m not sure if it was Zenith’s or Brent’s idea for me to join, but it doesn’t matter, I’m just happy they thought of me. Once I got asked, it didn’t take me long to realize that this was something I needed to do.
Brodziak and Komarsniski will be the second and third former NHLers to play in the WLG, joining Janne Niinimaa who played in 2018.
Preparing for WHL, AHL or NHL games is one thing, but preparing to play hockey for 252 consecutive hours over a 10-day span is completely different. Brodziak has been spending more time in his skates outside during the recent cold-snap to try and prepare, but mainly he is leaning on advice from veterans who played before.
“I’ve heard the most difficult things are keeping your feet in good shape, as well as your hip flexors,” said Brodziak. There is a group email going around with a lot of the guys who have played in it before. Booties (on your skates) are very important, to trap the heat in as well as being able to stuff feet warmers in there to help prevent frost bite. There is also a method of duct taping your feet to help with blisters, but I have not learned that method yet. I should be able to manage my hip flexors with my fortunate experience of working with some of the best trainers around while I was playing, but I will just need to make sure to put in the work to keep them loose.”
Playing in this game is very personal for all the men and women involved. Most players have lost a loved one or a good friend to cancer. That bond makes the game more meaningful, and helps players push through the hard times when it is three in the morning and -25 (or worse).
The peace and tranquility of playing on the outdoor rink, under the lights, with your feet freezing will remind Brodziak of the early years of his life with is father, while also connecting him to the current outdoor skates with his three young boys.
Dale will be very proud watching his son and his 39 teammates in their quest to end Cancer.
You can donate to Kyle or any of the other 39 skaters here.
Also, they are looking for volunteer officials. Due to COVID protocols refs will not be on the ice, but will be officiating from outside the rink. The bonus is you can dress as warm as you like and you don’t have to know how to skate. If interested you can email Perry at [email protected].
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