Following the dream, from Victoria to Vegas

The author, Brian Nugent and Graeme Livingston in Saanich

The author, Brian Nugent and Graeme Livingston in Saanich earlier this year.

It’s seven o’clock on a October morning in the Nevada desert. The sun is coming up over the large hotels and casinos that make up the 11 miles of Las Vegas nightlife. It’s a time when many travellers in their mid-20s are just coming in from there evenings out on the town.

For Brian Nugent, it is time to go to practice. It’s a long way from the cold mornings and drives to practice during his youth in Saanich, B.C., a small community in the outskirts of Victoria. He played his minor hockey there and later moved on to play Junior A for the local team, the Victoria Salsa/Grizzlies.

Las Vegas is also a big change from the snowy weather of Marquette, Michigan where he spent his past four years in college. But for him, the change is welcomed with open arms. Nugent is one of few recent Northern Michigan university graduates still pursuing a professional hockey career and one of the very few guys in professional sport that get to play in Las Vegas, a town known more for its nightlife then having an ice arena. Six months ago if you told him he’d be playing hockey here, he would have laughed.

Nugent’s career has been full of learning experiences and decisions that have led him to an ECHL contract with the Las Vegas Wranglers. At age 17, he was left with the decision to pursue a Western Hockey League career or a BCHL career that provides the opportunity to get a scholarship. He chose the college route and was given the opportunity to play Junior A hockey in his hometown, an experience he will never forget. In four years with the Grizzlies, he amassed 130 points in 230 games and captained the team during the 2009 Canadian Junior A Championship (Royal Bank Cup). Being captain of the team in his home town during National Championships is an experience that Nugent says “is unforgettable.” The teams, through his years in Victoria, were strong. He got to play alongside current NHLers Jamie and Jordie Benn of the Dallas Stars and Tyler Bozak of the Toronto Maple Leafs, and also had the opportunity to be coached by former Vancouver Canuck Geoff Courtnall.

After his Junior A career, Nugent was given multiple scholarship opportunties and chose Northern Michigan based on its strong history and hockey program. College hockey was much different then Junior A. In 110 games, he tallied only 15 points and wasn’t always given the best on-ice opportunities. College was learning experience for Nugent, on and off the ice, and by the end of his four years it was time to move on.

In the offseason after his senior year, Nugent’s agent called and told him that he wasn’t going to do it anymore and he couldn’t help him in the process of finding a pro tryout. There were moments where Nugent considered other career opportunities, but the fire burned deep to continue playing hockey. He took things into his own hands and thought of places he’d want to play.

He had trouble during the long, cold, dark Michigan winters during his time in college and wanted to find a place he’d enjoy playing but also somewhere at the professional level. He got in contact with Las Vegas and, after a few phone calls and some networking, he was on his way there for a pro tryout as a free agent.

In the months leading up to his first pro camp, Nugent spent hours in the gym and on the ice preparing himself for professional hockey, a league a step up from college with much bigger, faster, stronger players. After a strong showing at camp, he has found himself a spot on the team and is immediately soaking up all Vegas has to offer. The new city has energized his desires for the game.

He still wakes up every morning and smiles at the fact he is living in Las Vegas playing hockey. What’s next for Nugent, an athelete who has travelled most of North America on various hockey endeavours? He makes it clear this isn’t the end. He wants to go to the rink each day and work hard and continue to better himself has a hockey player.

“You never know what the next opportunity will be,” he said.

Alex Clipsham

Alex Clipsham is a second year Journalism & Communications student at Kwantlen Polytechnic University in Surrey, B.C.

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