Photo from The Detroit News
While growing up in Detroit, Rod Braceful was first introduced to hockey by his godmother.
She brought him to a local game to watch a family friend play. After watching one game, Braceful wanted to try hockey himself. Once he got that first taste, he was hooked; hockey has been a part of his life ever since.
He made his way through different levels of travel and junior hockey before committing to play at New England College in Henniker, New Hampshire.
Following his playing career, Braceful went into coaching, which was something that he wasn’t completely sure of at the time.
“Originally, I was skeptical about the coaching piece,” he said. “I was student coaching at first. It was fun the first year and then it became something more serious. I developed that love for the game from a different view and was in a position to help players.”
“I get to help the families through the progression of these important years,” he said. “It’s pure blood, sweat and tears. Kids are striving to play at a higher level from age 12 on and then at 16, it’s the first time they get to take that step. It’s really cool to be a part of and guide them through the process.”
So, when the opening for the director of player personnel for the NTDP opened up, it was a no brainer for Braceful to apply for the position. It is an opportunity for him to continue to cement his legacy and put his own stamp on the program.
Braceful’s path took another turn as he moved from coaching to scouting. He served as a scout for two different USHL teams before joining the NTDP as the assistant director of player personnel from 2018 to 2021, where his focus was on recruiting and evaluating prospective players for the program.
Moving into scouting was something that he enjoyed, especially being able to build relationships with the players and their families.
“Honestly, it was always something I thought about as an assistant director,” he said. “To get an opportunity to come back and have that knowledge, I know I can help the legacy and continued success of the NTDP. It’s such a unique experience to represent your country – and there is only one national program for the U.S. I don’t take it for granted."
After he left the NTDP in 2021, Braceful worked as a scout for the Chicago Blackhawks for two seasons. He believes his NHL experience will help him as he transitions into his new position with the NTDP.
“Coming back, I feel more prepared in helping our NTDP reach the next level, especially the U18s as they get ready for the draft and the combine,” he said. “I've been on the other side of the NHL interviews; interviewing the players and understanding the process. I can go back to the staff and talk about it to help those players.”
One of his most rewarding moments so far has been watching the NHL Draft, especially the players from his first stint with the NTDP.
“It's great watching kids chase their dreams and watching families be happy that all the hard work and sacrifice has paid off,” he said. “It was so much fun watching them as they see their kids name called — Jimmy Snuggerud, Oliver Moore and Frankie Nazar for instance."
“Even this year, seeing Will Smith and Ryan Leonard — they were the last group of the NTDP that I was a part of. Even though I was working for one NHL team, I was secretly clapping under the table for them. It’s so much fun watching the families enjoy the process. I can’t wait to see what will happen over the next four to five years, watching young men turn into adults.”
Braceful’s day-to-day objective will be making sure the best possible players come to the NTDP to help improve the program. One of his long-term goals is to be a mentor for other people of color looking to have a hockey-based career once their playing days are over.
“I want to be an example of if you love the game, want to be part of the game and work hard, there are areas to get involved — whether it’s a coach, a scout, [or] in the NHL marketing department,” he said. “There are so many other avenues to be involved in the game. It is something that I have always thought about and in due time, it will be something that I can create.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.