PLYMOUTH, Mich. – Ask any team and they will tell you that to win a championship, you need to have good leadership. It requires hard work, determination, and players to have a big presence on the ice. However, that big presence does not necessarily mean you have to be the biggest guy.
Take Ty Broad and Jacob Kraft of the Buffalo Jr. Sabres, for example. Both are self-described undersized guys, but after going undefeated in pool play, these two alternate captains have their team one step closer to following last year’s Youth Tier I 15O Jr. Sabres team and winning the Chipotle-USA Hockey National Championship.
“The great thing about Ty Broad and Jacob Kraft is they’re not the biggest guys, and that’s the first thing that becomes pretty obvious when you see them,” said Jr. Sabres Head Coach, and former NHL captain Michael Peca. “But immediately following that is how hard they work. There’s no two players I’ve seen at all at this age group that work harder than those two, and that’s why they’ve got letters on their jerseys.”
Peca said both players are about 5 foot 7 or 5 foot 8. Not imposing by any stretch, but they are 200-foot players and are a big part of the success of the team as a whole.
“Those two want to win more than they care about their own well-being and statistics. That’s why they’re on the penalty kill, that’s why they’re on the power play, and they play in every situation.”
Broad and Kraft both know they are not the biggest players, but that does not phase them, nor do they feel like they have to make too many changes to the way they like the play.
“I’m more of a leadership, gritty player,” said Broad. “If you’re playing a bigger team, you may have to adjust but nothing changes a lot. You just have to keep playing your game and get it done.”
Their coach may be one of their best examples that you don’t have to be the biggest guy to produce big results. Peca is listed at 5 foot 11, 183 pounds, but produced 465 points during an NHL career that spanned parts of 14 seasons. He recalled when he had his height and weight measured for NHL Central Scouting before he was drafted.
“The guy from Central Scouting looked at me and he goes, ‘Michael, we know what kind of player you are. This scale doesn’t measure the size of your heart.' And those two guys epitomize that statement.”
“Me and Krafty can both look up to him because he was kind of the same player as both of us,” Broad said. “Not a big guy, but he could go out there and finish and could produce points.”
Peca said that throughout the course of his hockey career he has seen changes in the types of players that have been successful. He said it does not just favor one size of player, but rather dynamic players that are competitive regardless of their size. It is this shift that has allowed Kraft to look up to guys with similar statures as his own.
“Obviously I’m a smaller player, so I look up to guys like (Calgary Flames forward) Johnny Gaudreau. And watching a guy this year on Buffalo, Conor Sheary. He’s kind of a gritty guy and smaller, too.” Gaudreau stands at 5 foot 9 and Sheary one inch shorter, but have both enjoyed success in the NHL. Gaudreau sits at 98 points with one game remaining, and Sheary won two Stanley Cups with the Pittsburgh Penguins in his first two years in the league.
Aside from their physical appearance, Peca said each of them are high character guys and “wonderful kids,” and that will serve them well as they progress in their hockey careers.
“Both are going to be exceptional junior players, both are going to be exceptional Division I hockey players. It may be a little bit longer of a path for them because of their size, but they will get there.”
Both players have those aspirations, but as for short-term goals? Said Kraft with a smile, “Win the National Championship.”