It’s the story Mike Johnston reaches for when you ask the Portland Winterhawks’ coach about the Leafs newest signee Brad Ross.
“Two years ago there was a pre-season tournament in Everett (Was.) and they needed another team to round it out,” Johnston said. “The Soo Greyhounds came out.
“We were down 5-1 in our game against them and that night Brad Ross took 40 minutes in penalties. He fought guys. He ran over guys. He was an absolute terror.
“We ended up winning 6-5 and the Soo coaches said they never wanted to play us again. He terrified that team in every way.”
Ladies and gentlemen: Brad Ross.
The Leafs signed the 19-year-old to a three-year contract, Tuesday. The Winterhawks open their playoff series Friday against Kelowna. He will stay with the Winterhawksas long as they are playing. Leafs’ vice-president of hockey operations Dave Poulin said no decision has been made on whether Ross will play with the Marlies or accompany them in the post season. Still, the Leafs didn’t sign Ross to tell him he can’t come.
Ross may be one of the greatest statistical marvels in junior hockey. He sits 17th in Western League scoring with 40 goals and 82 points. He is seventh in penalty minutes with 163. Ross is one of only two of the league’s top 40 point-getters with triple digit PIMs.
At an honest 5-foot-11 and 185 pounds, Brad Ross is a middleweight who carries with him a profound hatred of defeat. “I hate losing,” Ross said from Portland. “I hate losing more than I love winning.”
“That’s a good thing,” offered Poulin. “He’s a very competitive kid and the thing about that is you have to make sure it’s channeled correctly.”
You need only watch Brad Marchand and Milan Lucic manhandle Maple Leaf forwards for a few seconds to conclude how the Leafs would like to channel Brad Ross. Invariably, Ross is projected as a Darcy Tucker type and Ross could be described as a ‘Brother Tucker’ or at least something very close.
“I had Darcy at the world juniors,” Johnston said. “He was probably a little more skilled but Bradley is a very good skater. He gets 25 breakaways a year. His best game is when he takes the puck wide with speed and drives the net but he will hit you with a lot more weight and strength than Darcy could.”
Johnston was delighted by Ross’s competetiveness but impatient with the needless minor penalties that came with it.
“When he’s on his game he will make eight, nine, ten hits a game and yeah, he’ll talk,” Johnston said.
The on-ice hellraiser is the product of a union between a now-retired RCMP officer named Rory and Elaine Ross, a vice-principal at a school near the family’s Lethbridge home.
The turning point of his young career came as an overmatched 16-year-old on a poor Winterhawks team.
“I wasn’t a good enough player, I couldn’t really move the way I needed to,” Ross said. “There really wasn’t all that much for me to do except fight and get under people’s skin. “
His game is built on flint hitting stone but Ross paid the price to be an NHL player. For the last two years he showed up at training camp a month early to take power skating and improve his core strength.
The Leafs traded Jimmy Hayes to Chicago in 2010 to recoup the second round pick they used to draft Ross.
“This is a kid with 20-plus goals and 200 PIMs,” Leafs GM Brian Burke said at the time. “It suits me just fine.”
Nothing has changed since.
Ross was born in Edmonton but the family moved to Cochrane, Ontario when he was just a few weeks old. Another transfer brought the Ross family to Lethbridge for Brad’s Grade 9 year. Meanwhile, Brad Ross is, as they say in his dad’s old field, a person of interest to Western League fans and players.
“Last season he blind-sided a guy in our series against Kelowna,” said Todd Vrooman, the radio voice of the Winterhawks. “He got a three-game suspension and in Game Five he spent the entire warmup standing at the red line yelling at the other team. On the first shift, someboday ran him, they took the penalty and we scored on the power play. He is really, really good at getting under people’s skin.”
Ross said he doesn’t mind being described as a pest and while his Mom doesn’t like to see him fight, when skates hit the ice his competetiveness roils over.
“I am a very relaxed person in real life but on the ice it switches,” he said.
“I think it’s just my passion for the game. I get very emotionally involved. Sometimes that can be a little bad.”