Brice excited to continue professional career
HOUGHTON — Former Houghton Gremlins and Michigan Tech Huskies forward Raymond Brice is enjoying a little rest before continuing pursuit of his next professional hockey adventure. Brice, who served as a captain for the Huskies during his time in college, has spent the past two seasons with the ECHL’s Kalamazoo Wings.
Considering that Brice grew up in Houghton, played some of his junior hockey in Sault Ste. Marie, and played his college hockey at Michigan Tech, Kalamazoo has been a great home for him as he has worked his way into a consistent spot in the Wings’ lineup night in and night out.
“It’s been good,” he said. “I was still in the state of Michigan in the last two years, which is good for my family. It’s nice that they were able to come down and watch. I wasn’t sure what I was getting into in Kalamazoo, but I have been really fortunate to be there the last two years. (It’s) one of the best organizations overall in that league in how they treat their players and their staff.
“So, I was really fortunate to find that spot. Being away from home was good. You get to explore a little bit more, get two new roommates or whatever, in two years. So, that was exciting, and being able to meet those guys, even more than the rest of the guys on the team, was a cool experience. I really enjoy it.”
While Brice has spent a lot of time in Michigan, especially in the Upper Peninsula, he credits the fact that his junior team in Sault Ste. Marie had to move to New Jersey as a chance for him to get to see a bigger part of the country, which helped him with his eventual transition to professional hockey.
“The culture out there is different, and the people are different,” he said. “You get kind of used to the big city life after playing there for six to eight months, whatever it may be. It was different, but I thought it was a good experience.
“I did enjoy it right out there. We had a lot of fun and a good group of guys out there, which was cool too.”
Finding his role
In his last two seasons of high school hockey, Brice was known for his speed and his scoring ability, scoring 74 goals and 134 points. In juniors, his role changed, and with the Soo Eagles, he was in more of what coaches refer to as a middle six-role. The following year, he was counted on to score, and he led the New Jersey Titans with 21 goals in 57 games.
He credits former NHL player Randy McKay with helping him understand how roles change
“I always tell people that, at every level you go, (actually,) I had a good conversation about this with Randy McKay I remember, your role always changes no matter where you go,” Brice said. “Sometimes you excel at your role at one level, and then you have to find a new role at the next level.”
At Michigan Tech, he was asked to take on a more defensive role. Learning that role has helped prepare him for his career with the Wings.
“I led my team in juniors,” he said. “When I got to Tech, my new role was kind of defensive, bottom six forward, to shut down other team’s top lines and play a defensive role. (I had to) kind of embrace that, and create energy and scoring chances, kind of swing momentum. My role in Kalamazoo has actually been very similar.”
With the Wings, Brice found a home alongside Justin Taylor. Taylor has been with the Wings, for the most part since 2010-11. This season, Taylor broke the team’s all-time scoring record. Brice has enjoyed getting the opportunity to learn alongside him while continuing to work on improving his own game.
“I have played with the same guy for 132 games, and we’ve kind of had the same role,” said Brice, “defensive, matching other teams’ top lines. I really enjoy playing with him.
“I attribute a lot of (my) success to my linemate. When you play with a guy that much, it’s pretty easy to read off him.”
Scary moment this season
This season, Brice suffered a concussion, which kept him out of the lineup for six games. At the time he was dealing with it, he found himself worried that his career might be over before it had really begun.
“I’ve had a couple now,” he said. “It’s something scary. It’s kind of the new topic on the block. The news around them, and what’s happening to people, is a bit scary in today’s world. But, I had one. I thought maybe that was it for me, kind of (time to) move on. I ended up missing six games.”
The Wings helped Brice get in touch with Dr. Jeffrey Kutcher, who has a sports neurology clinic in Brighton. He said spending a few hours with Dr. Kutcher helped him better understand what his options were.
“Their treatment, and what they told me, was spot on for symptoms,” Brice said. “I’ve heard it from other doctors that these guys are world-renowned neurologists. It was cool to be able to go in there, and the information that I learned was, other than getting cleared, the coolest part. All the information that I’ve been able to retain from it, and what I now know, is unbelievable.”
The Wings found themselves out of the playoff hunt with weeks left in the season, so they found themselves sellers at the trade deadline, rather than buyers. Brice watched several teammates get moved out to playoff-bound squads. While it hurt not to still have his friends around, he was excited to see his teammates get a chance to play for the Kelly Cup as ECHL playoff champions.
“I think there were seven of us on the active roster, at one point, that were there from the start of the year, and that have been there all year,” he said. “So, you have to be thankful that they (the team’s management) still trust you, and they obviously wanted you. But, at the same time, it’s tough to see guys go, guys that you’ve become good buddies with in the last two years, that have been there for two years. It’s tough to see them go. But, I feel like a lot of those guys have actually gotten traded to championship-caliber teams. I think they’re pretty happy about that, that most of the guys that got traded made the playoffs.”
Leaving Kalamazoo, for now
While Brice has enjoyed his last two seasons with the Wings, he understands that professional hockey is a business, and sometimes a player needs to find a new home. Like Huskies defenseman Jake Crespi, Brice is looking at playing for a team in Hungary next season in the six-team OB I Bajnokság, which is the highest level of professional hockey in the country.
Crespi and Brice are actually using the same agent to secure their deals, which is exciting for both of them.
“Crespi and I have the same agent, who kind of found us,” Brice said, “so, same league, different team. It’s to the east of Crespi a little bit.
“I don’t know a ton of guys over there, but it’ll be good to have him not far away. I’m pretty close with Crespi, which is good. I think we’re both excited to go over there and play.”