Rod Braceful scored a plum job with USA Hockey. Give an assist to John Vanbiesbrouck.
Braceful, a 30-year-old former player from Detroit, Michigan, was named assistant director of player personnel for USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program earlier this month.
Braceful, who was director of scouting last season for the Muskegon Lumberjacks of the USHL, was the top choice from a large applicant pool for the NTDP job that he almost landed last season.
When Rick Comley Jr. left the assistant director of player personnel post to take an amateur scout position with the National Hockey League’s Arizona Coyotes this season, Braceful jumped at the chance to reapply for the job.
“I told them that ‘I’m all in and I’m happy,'” Braceful said of his reaction when USA Hockey offered him the job. “It was a good call to have. There’s a lot of good, qualified people in the game looking for jobs, and there are not a lot of jobs.”
The NTDP position is more than just a job – it’s a launching pad. The last five assistant and chief player personnel directors have moved on to NHL jobs.
“Every person who really loves the game of hockey, of course, see themselves being part of the NHL, whether it’s playing or working,” Braceful said. “My playing career, which was short, I knew there was no way I could play there. But, of course, I’ve had thoughts of working there.”
Braceful’s resume spoke volumes to USA Hockey’s brain trust: a scouting director for a USHL team; Midwest hockey director for Legacy Global Sports, where he organized and led camps for Selects Hockey; a former coach in Michigan’s famed Little Caesars and Compuware youth hockey programs; a former player and coach at NCAA Division III New England College.
“The goal of the job is to identify, evaluate, educate top American players for our program,” Kevin Reiter, the NTDP’s director of player personnel. “He’s done that for numerous years.”
While Braceful’s credentials did a lot of the talking, Vanbiesbrouck, USA Hockey’s assistant executive director for hockey operations, also lobbied on his behalf.
Vanbiesbrouck, a former NHL All-Star goaltender, had first-hand knowledge of Braceful’s abilities because he was general manager of the Lumberjacks before taking the USA Hockey gig in May.
“He worked hand-in-hand with John last year in building that (Muskegon) team, so he had a familiarity with the league and the players and the talent needed in that league,” Reiter said. “Beezer was really an advocate for him, and rightfully so, he did a great job. But there was a lot more to our digging and our homework to make sure we were making the right choice.”
Vanbiesbrouck gave Braceful one of the ultimate compliments in the sport, calling him “a good hockey person.”
“I wanted Kevin to keep an open mind, but I definitely recommended him,” Vanbiesbrouck told me. “I wanted Rob to get the job, for sure. He does great work, he’s very personable. People like Rod and that element in recruitment is important to the position.”
“I think he’s got a great knowledge for hockey, he knows the game well. I think that, in a lot of ways, we think of the game very similar,” Vanbiesbrouck added. “For a young to have the knowledge that he has and to be all-in is a good combination, and that’s why I categorize him as a hockey guy.”
USA Hockey’s hiring of Vanbiesbrouck was controversial. In 2003, when he was coach and general manager of the Ontario Hockey League’s Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, Vanbiesbrouck called his then-19-year-old defenseman Trevor Daley the N-word.
Vanbiesbrouck, discussing the episode with The Athletic’s Scott Burnside in August, said that he’s sorry and regrets using the word. He added that the incident “hasn’t defined my life” and that he’s a “very inclusive person.”
“So you ask the question, what have you done, what have you done?” he told Burnside. “I’ve done a lot of things. No. 1 is I had to repent…and ask God for forgiveness because I live by faith and I violated my own principles. And I know that.”
Braceful said working in Muskegon with Vanbiesbrouck, a fellow Michigander, was “a fine” educational experience.
“He was a good person to work under just because he has so much knowledge of the game from all the different parts of it,” Braceful said. “He had done some work with USA Hockey in the past and present. He knew the ins and the outs in dealing with the USHL as well as what they do with USA Hockey. And he knows a lot of people. You know what? He taught me a lot, as well as a lot of other guys at Muskegon.”
Braceful has also learned from a few hockey coaches of color, particularly Jason Payne, the first-year assistant coach of the ECHL’s Cincinnati Cyclones, Jason McCrimmon, head coach and owner of Detroit’s Motor City Hawks of the U.S. Premier League, and Duante’ Abercrombie, the rookie head coach of the Washington Little Capitals 16U National Team, a youth program with a track record of developing players for junior, college and professional hockey teams.
He also can talk hockey with family. His older cousin, Cameron Burt, was a star player for NCAA Division I Rochester Institute of Technology from 2008-09 to 2011-12 and currently plays professionally in Slovakia.
“I’ve actually had the pleasure of knowing and learning from some older guys who were able to take me under their wings and be kind of distant mentors,” Braceful said. “There have been guys doing good things around. I think maybe now, they’re starting to be noticed.”
“They’re just trying to make their own way in the game, they just want to make sure they do a good job, they want to be the best,” he added. “And just keep working their way up the ladder.”
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