Carter Bradley didn’t start the season with the St. Cloud Norsemen, he came to the team right after the NAHL Showcase in Blaine, MN in September. But the defenseman certainly looks like he’s been with the team all season now as he’s become an important piece in the Norsemen’s blue line.
Bradley, who hails from St. Louis, MO, may have joined the squad late, but he says moving up to St. Cloud and joining a team that had already begun to form wasn’t difficult or awkward at all. “It was so easy here, the transition. Everyone was so welcoming; the coaches were great, all the players were great,” Bradley explains. “I had some kids that I played with last year which helped a lot and they kind of made me feel more comfortable with the other guys. And it was just smooth sailing from there.”
Those teammates Bradley is referring to are Andrew Clarke and Charlie Wind, who were a part of the U18 St. Louis AAA Blues who won a Tier 1 Elite League Championship and finished second in the National Championship. Both Clarke and Wind also hail from St. Louis, as does teammate Andrew Knapp who has played four seasons for the St. Louis AAA Blues with their 13U through 16U teams. Anthony Ruklic, who joined the Norsemen in January, hails from Edwardsville, IL, which is half an hour northeast of St. Louis and also played on last year’s U18 AAA Blues squad. There certainly is a strong St. Louis flavor to this St. Cloud squad this season.
St. Cloud Norsemen Assistant Coach Brock Kautz sees the chemistry that those players have developed from having played with one another previously. “Playing with a group of those guys and then playing with them again at another level, you just develop a connection and some comfortability. That helps the transition from AAA hockey to junior hockey because it can be tough, it can be a grind, so having some comfort on the team, in the locker room, away from the rink, that goes a long way for sure,” confirms Kautz. Kautz also sees that Bradley has become more talkative as the season has progressed. “He’s grown a lot in that sense of engaging with his teammates. He’s a pretty quiet kid and doesn’t like to give a whole lot of answers but it’s been fun to see how he’s grown into more of a talker, a jokester and I know he’s got to be one of the most well liked guys on our team and in that locker room. The guys have a ton of respect for him.”
Bradley talks about how that championship run that just fell short helped mold him into the player he’s become. “We were a good AAA team, we had a winning culture so that obviously helps, being on a winning team. We had coaches (Jeff Brown and Kelly Chase) that played in the NHL for years, like here in St. Cloud, so that helps a lot,” Bradley admits. “Good coaching, playing the game and at the best level, I think that carried on to the team. I think they (Brown and St. Cloud Norsemen Head Coach Corey Millen) have similar coaching styles so that obviously helped me a lot.”
This isn’t Carter’s first season in the NAHL as he played eight games for the Springfield Jr. Blues last season, but he certainly has seen his game grow in his first full season in the league. When asked what has improved the most since his time in St. Cloud Bradley answers, “I think my D Zone; coming to practice every day working on my D Zone, really focusing on keeping the puck out of the net,” Bradley explains. “That’s my main job is to keep the puck out of the net and not worry about anything else. I think my D Zone and breaking pucks out is what’s improved the most.
Kautz concurs that Bradley’s time in St. Cloud has been beneficial and his game is continuing to grow. “I think for Carter he’s just gotten so much more confidence in his game. He’s definitely not one of the biggest defenseman on the ice but he’s a competitor and he understands how to use his body, how to use his feet and how to use his stick effectively,” compliments Kautz. “Just his confidence and his puck touches and the amount of ice time that he’s gotten; some kids just thrive after they’ve gotten some experience. Him, in my opinion, he has only gotten better and he’s been a huge help on our penalty kill as we’ve had some of our older guys in and out of the lineup due to injuries. So we’ve leaned on him with that and he’s been a great help.”
Bradley and the Norsemen have a rare Friday night off this week but they’re back at it on the road against the Austin Bruins this Saturday night. Puck drops at 7:05 from Riverside Arena and you can watch all the action on www.hockeytv.com. The next home game for St. Cloud will be against the same Bruins on Thursday, March 30th, with the puck dropping at 7:00 and tickets can be purchased online at tickets.stcloudnorsemen.com.