Written by Ryan Dittrick
Talent, alone, can only take you so far.
For young players looking to make an impression at the pro level, such as 22-year-old Brett Pollock, applying that skill on a regular basis can often be their biggest obstacle.
“But,” Domenic Pittis, the assistant coach of the Flames’ American Hockey League affiliate, reminds us: “That’s what makes this game so hard, and what separates the good from the great.
“Consistency… it’s everything.”
Brett Pollock, now 22 and a firm believer in the old axiom, is entering his third pro season with that sage advice tattooed in his mind’s eye.
After all, what typically comes to the forefront after a good season are the expectations to exceed the previous year’s bounty.
And to do it…
“Consistently,” Pollock said. “It took me a while to get going last year, but once I got clicking and found some confidence, it really made things a lot easier and I felt I could play – and play well – at that level.”
Pollock, a second-round pick in the 2014 Draft, was in and out of the Heat lineup in what was his first AHL season, but really found a groove in the second half, scoring 19 of his 20 points in the final 31 games of the campaign.
The 6-foot-3, 205-lb. winger is a prototypical, modern-day power forward with good wheels and a great shot. But, as Pollock knows better than most, there’s more to the pro game than free-wheeling, shoot-em-up pond hockey.
It’s that realization that forced him to identify the true strengths of his game, and develop a niche that he hopes will one day be irresistible to his NHL employers.
“I know what I kind of player I can be,” said Pollock, an imposing figure throughout his junior career with the Edmonton Oil Kings, leading them in goals and points in each of his last two seasons. “I think I bring something unique – something that no one else in the organization has.
“For a bigger guy, I think I can shoot and handle the puck pretty well.
“But so can a lot of guys.
“My focus coming into camp this year was using my size to my advantage. I’m never going to be a big physical presence or anything like that, but protecting the puck, spinning off guys down low and taking it to the net – that’s what I hope to show here during the pre-season.”
Pollock says his rookie season in Stockton – along with a full ECHL term the year prior – “toughened me up” for the pro game.
He credits that experience for giving him the tools to develop his game into what it is now.
“To learn how to protect the puck and play against those bigger bodies, it was a great experience,” he said. “I took what I learned that year and made it a goal of mine to develop it in the American League.
“The goal is to now bring that same style of play to the NHL one day.
That kind of confidence is music to the ears of Pittis, who worked with Pollock on a daily basis last year as the Heat skills coach. With some additional one-on-one time during Flames camp, and eventually into the Heat schedule, the former 20-year pro – who once put up 104 points in a single AHL season – thinks this prospect can eventually make a name for himself.
“He has a lot of skill, and you can tell just watching him during practice,” Pittis said. “The key for him has been able to figure out how to use that skill in the most effective, most efficient way possible.
“Last year was a big year for him and saw that development happen right before our eyes.”
Most importantly, as the year progressed, he learned how to handle the grind of the American League schedule, where the quality of competition was exponentially more difficult than Adirondack of the ECHL.
Those are growing pains that accompany a player’s journey from teen to teetering pro and beyond.
“Everyone that comes through the organization has talent and was probably one of the best players, wherever they came from, growing up,” Pittis said.
“But at the pro level, it’s a different animal.
“You have to bring it.
“Every. Single. Night.
“If he can do that, he can be an impact player.”