It is hard to miss stars that shine as brightly as those of the Washington Capitals: Alex Ovechkin, Alex Semin, Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Green. But that light often overshadows the hard work of some of the bottom 6 forwards whose hard work allows those stars to light up the night. One of those players is Matt Bradley.
The 1996 4th round draft pick of the San Jose Sharks realized early on in his hockey career that he was never going to be able to be a scorer, so he needed to find a different path to his NHL dream. He caught eyes with a willingness to take on anyone at anytime. At 6’3, 201 lbs, the Stittsville, Ontario native regularly drops the mitts for his team. One of the more memorable times was when the Capitals played Tampa Bay last year, when he stepped in just as Steve Downie and Caps captain Alex Ovechkin were about to fight.
Bradley spent his first three seasons playing for the Sharks while splitting his first season with their AHL affiliate at the time, the Kentucky Thoroughblades. He amassed 12 goals and 29 points in 121 games with the Sharks before registering 7 goals and 16 points in 82 games with the Pittsburgh Penguins. After his year with the Penguins, Bradley spent the lockout year with the Bulldogs Dornbrin-Austria before signing with the Capitals as a free agent.
As a solid forth-line player, Bradley fights when it is necessary and throws heavy hits on the fore-check. Something he has that many other fourth liners don’t have, however, is a level of skill. That skill was on full display as he, along with David Steckel and Brooks Laich, became playoff heroes during the Capitals’ first round series with the Rangers in 2009. In a critical game 5 (Rangers were up 3-1), Bradley scored on a shorthanded breakaway to open the scoring in what would turn out to be 4-0 shutout for goalie Semyon Varlamov. Bradley scored the second goal of the game as well, and it was the first time he ever scored in a playoff game.
His tough style of play combined with the occasional clutch goal and willingness to fight much larger opponents has won him the hearts of Caps fans for years. On Twitter, a “needsmorebradley” hash tag started to describe when the team needs to play tougher or work harder. There was a blog called Better Living Through Bradley, hilariously dedicated to the antics of Bradley and Laich.
After the departure of Donald Brashear in 2009, Bradley had to step up his fighting role. He was the team’s enforcer by default, and he did admirably while taking on the toughest in the league in encounters he was grossly outmatched for. It is his heart, not his results, that make him such an intricate part of the Capitals.
That is his on-ice game, but Bradley is a great presence in the dressing room as well. His dry, straight-faced sarcasm makes its way into interviews constantly, making him one of the more quotable players on the team. He refers to himself as the most skilled and best-looking player on the team in a way that would make the untrained eye think he is being serious. He and Laich are referred to by several players and coaches as the ringleaders when it comes to practical jokes.
Not only do players like Bradley play a much-needed role on the ice, but they fill an important void off the ice as well. Players with that level of commitment earn the respect of their teammates and fans alike. They may not get recognized on the score sheet or when the NHL Awards come around, but their work is deeply appreciated. There is a player on every team that embodies the complete team player. On the Washington Capitals, that player is Matt Bradley.