QU can’t go Wong with No. 9 on the ice

Billy Nichols

Freshman Brandon Wong, a native of Victoria, British Columbia, eats, sleeps and breathes hockey. In his freshman year at Quinnipiac, the talented center is just living the dream of any young player blanketed in his love for the game.

“The main goal ever since I was a young kid was to play in the NHL,” Wong said. “But I remember back when I was 12, my mom telling me, ‘you know, you’re going to have to think of other things to do.’ She was pretty much breaking my heart.”

Wong must have found himself a pretty good doctor. However severely damaged his heart was at age 12, the wounds seem to be well-mended at this point, at least from a hockey standpoint. The numbers, as well as the ever-growing fanfare, speak for themselves.

“I think he’s certainly surpassed expectations,” Quinnipiac assistant coach Scott Robson said. “He’s been a tremendous two-way hockey player.”

And how has the freshman star exceeded expectations? Wong went into the ECACHL conference tournament ranked second nationally in freshman scoring (41 points). He ranks first on the team and fifth in the country in goals scored and is tied for second nationally in shorthanded goals with four. Not bad for a 5-foot-10-inch, 175-pound freshman.

“At the beginning of the year I just wanted to get about 25 to 30 points,” Wong said. “Obviously I’ve had to change those goals since I’ve passed that.”

Wong’s uncanny ability to find open ice, coupled with a quick, sniper-like shot have allowed him to fill up the stat sheet.

Along with the impressive numbers, an increasingly sticky celebrity status has been tagged to Wong. With the hockey team slowly becoming the beacon of Quinnipiac athletics, Wong (along with senior captain Reid Cashman) has been made the face of the ever-popular program. “All night Wong” chants can be heard booming from the Bobcat student section. College hockey columnists are singing his praises. One may assume this is all just part of the deal.

Despite all the numbers and the attention, Wong is simply going through the motions. He eats his meals in the same cafeteria, sleeps in the same cramped dorm rooms and earns his academic stripes in the same busy library as other Quinnipiac students. Wong’s humility shines bright in a world where star college athletes are perceived as gods among men.

“Because of his success everybody thinks he must be cocky and arrogant,” said roommate and teammate Jean-Marc Beaudoin. “But he’s a very humble kid; he gets along with everybody, and he’s a good teammate.”

“His work ethic is phenomenal,” Robson said. “This sets the tone when one of your best players is one of the hardest working on the team.”

Combining humility, work ethic and natural hockey skill, Wong seems to be the complete package. But it wasn’t always a cakewalk for the freshman center.

Playing for the Powell River Kings of the British Columbia Hockey League in 2004-05 Wong lost his fervor for the game. The grind of a 60-game season and the distance from home took its toll on the young player.

“I just wasn’t having any fun anymore and hockey was tough at the time,” he said. “I was considering going back home and going back to school. I thought maybe I’d move on from hockey.”

Playing in the Island Division of the BCHL, Wong’s team literally stationed itself on an island in British Columbia. The team took a ferry to and from the island, which players in the league referred to as “Alcatraz.” Quitting the game he grew up with and loved became a serious possibility.

Luckily for Quinnipiac hockey, that didn’t happen. Wong stuck out the 04-05 campaign and was consequently traded to the Merritt Centennials (a mainland team) before the 2005-06 season. He returned from a year in which he almost called it quits to lead the league with 55 goals and 128 points. Talk about a complete 180.

A similar 180 may be necessary for Quinnipiac to make a serious run through the ECACHL conference tournament. While Wong’s personal numbers have been continuously elevating, the squad’s winning ways have become difficult to recapture.

“In the ECAC any team can beat any team at any time,” Wong said. “In the playoffs it just seems like everybody gets better. Everyone’s just going balls-to-the-wall and you’ve got to make sacrifices to win.”

These words ring true. In the ECACHL tournament no team is allowed a free pass. But one player fans can expect to show up with his “A” game will be the ever-humble Bobcat freshman who streaks across the ice sporting uniform No. 9.

For all youth hockey players, the NHL is the ultimate dream. Idolizing the likes of Wayne Gretzky, Ray Bourque, Joe Sakic and Mario Lemieux, or in Brandon Wong’s case, Paul Kariya, young puckheads emulate the game’s greats.

With each step, he comes closer to achieving what the legends before him have. As Wong thinks about the game, a sincere gaze appears on his face. “I couldn’t see myself doing anything else.”