(Courtesy of Perry Bergson, Brandon Sun) — For someone who now works with young people, Brad Twordik’s teenage years were spent in the spotlight.
Twordik, now 37 and the principal of Earl Oxford School, played with the Brandon Wheat Kings for four seasons from 1997 to 2000. He admitted he had to mature a bit after joining the club.
“It’s tough as a 16-, 17-year-old kid coming to a city and then potentially being role models at that point,” Twordik said. “My brother (Brent) played five years in Swift Current. You’re looked on in Swift Current and Brandon and Prince Albert and those smaller communities where the community really looks toward those players to come to special events, come to the schools, talk to kids and engage kids in being good people.
“If you’re not one of those good people as well, it’s kind of forced upon you. And there’s an expectation upon you to be a Brandon Wheat King and that was certainly preached to us when we got there about the level of respect that everybody has for the Brandon Wheat Kings and how you are to act within the community.”
It was a test the future team captain would meet with flying colours.
Twordik was selected in the third round of the 1994 Western Hockey League bantam draft, a year the Wheat Kings also selected future stars Dan Tetrault and Burke Henry. In fact, 11 of the 12 players picked by the Wheat Kings in 1994 would go on to play in the league.
After spending his 16-year-old season in midget AAA with his hometown Saskatoon Blazers and earning a three-game callup with the Wheat Kings in their 1995-96 championship run, Twordik won a job in Brandon when he was 17 for the 1996-97 season.
“I remember I had a pretty good camp,” he said. “I was pretty confident there. I was also probably a little intimidated.
“Wade Redden had come back for a couple of skates. He didn’t play that year because he made the NHL, but you had guys like Peter Schaefer out there, who was probably still one of the most talented players who I ever had seen or played with or against, and just being in awe of those kind of players when you got through to main camp to play with those older guys.”
Twordik scored 23 goals and added 33 assists in his rookie year playing on the third and fourth lines. Late in the season, he got the kind of promotion players want to earn rather than be given.
Stefan Cherneski, who had scored 39 goals in 56 games, was injured and the coaching staff eventually put Twordik on a line with Schaefer and Kelly Smart. On Feb. 21, 1997, Twordik marked his debut on the new line with a goal and four assists in an 11-4 win over the Calgary Hitmen.
“I never made a pass from outside my own blue-line,” Twordik said. “I chipped a couple off the boards and Schaefer went down and scored. He was just such a special player and then I had an opportunity to play with him and it kind of just set up the whole year for me.”
Twordik proved to be remarkably dependable offensively, scoring between 23 and 29 goals all four seasons in the WHL and posting between 56 and 74 points.
After his 18-year-old season — Twordik has a November birthday and didn’t meet the National Hockey League’s mid-September deadline for the 1997 draft — he was selected by the St. Louis Blues in the seventh round in Buffalo, N.Y.
“It was obviously a big day for me personally,” Twordik said. “I went down to the draft and, this will date us a little bit, that was the first draft that they used computers at. It took very long. I just remember sitting in the stands with some good friends of mine, Dan Hulak who played in Swift Current and (Wheat King teammate) Aaron Goldade. We sat there and waited for a number of hours but all three of us ended up being called. It was a pretty special moment to go down there and get the jersey and meet everybody.”
Twordik was remarkably healthy in his four-year career, with his only significant injury coming when he separated his shoulder as a 19-year-old. He lost 15 of the 18 games he would miss in his entire career with that injury.
The Wheat Kings fell short of the playoffs by four points in his final season, 1999-2000. It was a star-crossed year in which the team lost more than 500 games due to injury, including 82 from the other two overagers, Daniel Tetrault and Les Borsheim, both of whom played just 31 games.
(There was a silver lining for the franchise in missing the post-season for the first time in eight seasons; they picked Eric Fehr and Ryan Stone in the 2000 WHL bantam draft.)
Twordik and defenceman Kevin Harris were the only two players to suit up for all 72 games.
“It was just one of those years where everything that could go wrong did,” Twordik said.
Twordik was a leader throughout his Wheat Kings tenure, but was named captain in his final season and led the team in scoring that year. He ended his WHL career with 99 goals and 172 assists in 272 regular season games, with 21 points in 29 post-season games.
After graduating from the WHL, Twordik joined the Fort Wayne Komets of the United Hockey League for the 2000-01 season, and the Columbia Inferno of the East Coast Hockey League a year later.
Two professional seasons were enough for him.
“There were just some things about pro hockey that I didn’t like,” Twordik said. “Not only are you fighting for your job every day, but there wasn’t that team aspect that you had (in the WHL). When we came from Brandon, where we were very much a team, we did everything together. You had some very close friends, you got together on a weekly basis, sometimes a daily basis. That just wasn’t happening during pro hockey and I never saw hockey as a job.
“Somewhere along the way professionally, that was probably a downfall of mine because it was a job and it should have been a career at that point but I never viewed it as that.”
After returning to Saskatoon to attend the University of Saskatchewan, he played a year of senior hockey and then joined the Huskies for a season of university hockey in 2003-04. The Huskies went 15-9-4 in the regular season before losing the Canada West conference final to the Alberta Golden Bears.
That summer, he married his wife Jill, who he met as a Wheat King, and the pair returned to Brandon, where Twordik finished his schooling at Brandon University.
They now have two children, Mason, 9, and Quinn, 6.
With Mason playing atom hockey, Twordik runs into former teammates such as Ryan Robson and saw Justin Kurtz at a tournament in Winnipeg recently.
“It’s amazing how we all end up watching our kids in the end,” he said.
After years of teaching science and biology at Vincent Massey, Twordik became the principal a year ago at Earl Oxford, a kindergarten to Grade 8 school.
While he appreciates the lessons he learned at the rink and on the bus as a Wheat King, life has moved on for him.
“I miss being young and being able to go to the rink every day, but I don’t miss those days,” Twordik said. “I’m at the rink five days a week as it is now and I really enjoy seeing my kids playing hockey and wanting to be a part of it.”
But his Wheat King experience remains pertinent to him every day, particularly in his job looking after a school of students and staff. He said his time in Brandon offered him a master class in leadership.
“As I matured and got through and learned from some of the previous leaders like the Peter Schaefers, Darren Van Oenes, you started to see what leadership actually was and how it looked, and the times to say stuff,” he said. “You always have vocal leaders and people who are on-ice leaders and to be able to learn from those guys and develop my own leadership style along the way and then to be looked upon by young people who are coming up the system.
“I coached (the hockey team at) Vincent Massey for a couple of years and I always told my Grade 12 students that leadership is a great thing, but you have to remember that it’s your legacy that is left behind in your leadership, so what you show those younger players is what they are going to bring up. That’s what I learned.”
Twordik’s former team came up short on Saturday, losing 3-2 in overtime to the Blades in Saskatoon. However, Brandon did manage to pick up six points in four games this past week.