October 05, 2015

Jeff Brubaker

Jeff Brubaker was a tough as nails forward (and occasional defenseman).

Brubaker was born in Maryland but grew up in Lansing, Michigan where his father worked at Michigan State University as a microbiology professor.

Like father, like son? Well not in this case, at least not in terms of vocation. Jeff was a part time NHL tough guy for several teams. In total he played 178 NHL games, scoring sixteen goals and twenty five points to go with his hard earned 512 minutes in the penalty box. He did play in two Stanley Cup playoff games, too. He never scored. It's tough to score when spending 27 minutes in the penalty box.

Regardless of his father's academic background, Jeff never had any interest in doing anything else than hockey.

Lansing's organized hockey back then only allowed the opportunity to play once a week, which clearly wasn't enough for Jeff and his friends. Fortunately outdoor ice was not hard to find. This dedicated group of kids would get out of bed at 4am in order to play all morning before they had to go to school. They returned to the ice as soon as the final bell went, too.

At the age of 16 Brubaker decided he had to take a big chance if he was to achieve his dream of playing in the NHL. He moved to Minnesota all by himself, as Minnesota was where America's top hockey talent came from at the time. He even scored 50 goals while playing bantam there.

After completing high school he briefly returned home to enroll in classes at Michigan State and play for the Spartans hockey team. But he left mid-season and jumped at the chance to play with one of Canada's top junior hockey teams - the Peterborough Petes.

His hockey life switched forever in Peterborough. After arriving as a defenseman, coach Gary Green converted him into a rough and tumble winger. He also convinced the young Brubaker that if he really wanted to make it to the NHL, he would have to do it as a brawler.

Eager to please, Brubaker embraced the role. He led the Petes with 307 penalty minutes in 1977-78, and scored 20 goals, too. That earned him a shot at the NHL as the Boston Bruins drafted him 102nd overall in the 1978 NHL draft.

But Brubaker jumped to the WHA before going to the Bruins camp. He signed with the Hartford Whalers, who retained his rights when the franchise merged with the NHL in 1979.

Aside from one season as a fan-favorite with John Brophy's Toronto Maple Leafs in 1984-85, Brubaker had trouble sticking in the NHL with Hartford, Montreal, Calgary, Edmonton, Detroit and the New York Rangers. His best stint may have been four games in Edmonton but he blew out his ankle in a collision with Vancouver goalie Richard Brodeur. He admitted to never skating as well ever again.

Brubaker became a successful coach and manager at the minor league level through the 1990s and early 2000s before walking away from the game.

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