MONCTON -- During the world junior championship this past winter in Vancouver, there were whispers the hometown Giants of the Western Hockey League were thinking of trading Gilbert Brule if he was returned by the Columbus Blue Jackets.
But the Giants did not pull the trigger, and they're thankful they stood pat. Participating in the Memorial Cup is something they likely would not be doing without Brule.
"I think when we sat down and really thought about it, why would we make a trade when you have the best player in the league coming back, and one who was happy to come back?" Giants coach Don Hay said after practice yesterday.
How much does Brule, the sixth overall pick by the Blue Jackets last summer, mean to the Giants?
"He has really been the player who has made a big difference for us," said Hay, whose club faces the host Moncton Wildcats tonight in the tournament opener for both teams. "We were a good team before, but I thought he was a guy who really put us over the top."
One NHL scout, when summing up the Giants' forwards, said the team had Brule and 11 grinders.
Brule, 19, cracked the WHL's Western Conference second all-star team despite playing in just 27 games, when he had 38 points. It was in the playoffs Brule shone brightest, though. The 5-foot-10, 180-pound centre had 30 points in 18 games and was a force for the Giants.
"It has been a roller-coaster ride," Brule said. "I've been up and down with making the NHL and it was frustrating getting a few rough injuries. But everyone has been putting in the effort and it is not just one guy who got us here."
Brule earned a spot with the Blue Jackets in training camp, but suffered a cracked sternum in the second game of the season when he was hit by the Calgary Flames' Roman Hamrlik. Not long after coming back from that injury, Brule broke his right leg in a game against the Minnesota Wild on Nov. 30.
Brule managed to collect four points in seven games with Columbus but was sent to Vancouver in January when his leg healed.
Months later, he cherishes his time in the NHL and knows he probably will be a full-time Jacket in 2006-07.
"I was living with Luke Richardson (who was later traded to the Maple Leafs) when I was there and it was great for me," Brule said. "How hard he worked, I got to watch that every day. Guys like Adam Foote and Sergei Fedorov also taught me things. It was an amazing experience and I will never forget it."