Brent's back on the blades

RANDY SPORTAK -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 8:03 AM ET

There's a contentment in Brent Dodginghorse's voice.

An ease from being absolutely happy with his spot in life.

"I never thought life after hockey would be so enjoyable," says the former Calgary Hitmen forward.

Not that hockey is over for the fan favourite. In fact, he's hoping to be on the march to a national championship as part of the Horse Lake Thunder squad looking to claim the Allan Cup crown.

It's just the game took a turn to the negative for Dodginghorse four or five years ago when injuries dampened his time in the ECHL.

"I didn't get sick of it but there was a time when being on the road all the time, travelling on the bus for endless hours and living on the minimum per diem just didn't really appeal to me," said Dodginghorse, who played for Johnstown and Pensacola after two seasons with the Hitmen.

"Eventually, I wanted to do other things."

But, a couple of months ago, the game called him back. Actually it was Gino Odjick, the former NHLer who's part of the Horse Lake squad made famous by its addition of former Flames star Theo Fleury.

Odjick, who worked at native hockey schools with Dodginghorse half a dozen years ago, gave him a shout asking him to join the squad.

Dodginghorse, working as a hunting guide in Saskatchewan and playing recreationally a couple of nights a week at the time, couldn't resist the chance.

"It's a great situation," said Dodginghorse from Grande Prairie. "The calibre of players on the team and a chance to play with guys I'd never had a chance to play with before is great."

Which would include Fleury, the Flames' all-time leading scorer.

"He brings such a good presence to the dressing room and is such a positive guy in the room. Very supportive. He's not afraid to tell you what you did wrong, too, and you've got to respect that," Dodginghorse said. "A few words from him means a lot."

Dodginghorse, a key part to the Hitmen's WHL championship run in the spring of 1999, was thrilled to hear Brad Moran's number was retired by the club recently. Now, he says he's in a similar role with the Thunder.

"Put the puck in the net when I can, play smart defence and try not to let the other teams create too many problems out there. If I have to fight, I have to fight," he said.

Fight? On a team that has Odjick and former Flames enforcer Sasha Lakovic?

"There are lightweights in this league, too," Dodginghorse says with a laugh.

Not that Dodginghorse has to be the same size as any fellow competitor.

Anyone who's seen his enthusiasm on the ice could attest to that.

It's the same reason he's trying another sport at the highest level -- rodeo.

Last year, his first competitive season, Dodginghorse won the Prairie Indian Rodeo Association year-end finals and qualified for the Indian National Finals Rodeo in steer wrestling.

"I was born into that sport," he said.

Even if he's not the biggest guy.

"When I first started, I thought I wasn't big enough," said Dodginghorse, who now packs 210 lb. on his 6-ft. frame.

"The more you practice and the more you get involved, you find the bigger guys do dominate but, learning how to steer wrestle, you can find the guys my size can be more agile and quicker on the ground."

Dodginghorse's Stanley Cup dreams may have disappeared but have been replaced by Calgary Stampede hopes.

"This year, my sights are set on the Canadian Professional Rodeo Association. We have a schedule picked out," said Dodginghorse, who travels with his cousin, Emmett Crowchild. "As soon as the hockey season is done, I'll trade my skates for boots. My short-term goal is to get my permit. Eventually, my goal is to get to the Calgary Stampede."

More immediate, though, is that race to the Allan Cup. Last weekend, the Thunder split the opening two games of the Alberta semifinal series with Bentley. Game 3 is tomorrow at the home of the Thunder, with the best-of-five continuing Sunday.

"I didn't really know a whole lot about the Allan Cup before but being up here in Northern Alberta, it's a big deal to a lot of people," Dodginghorse said. "Our owners and our coach have instilled in our heads it's a big deal, so it's a goal the team wants to get to.

"It's contagious being around this team."


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