67’s Horner quietly finding legs in new role
Bradley Horner broke into the Ottawa 67’s lineup midway through last season as the hard-nosed, gritty defenceman, but by necessity, that overview is starting to change.
After being drafted in the seventh round of the 2021 OHL Priority Selection, Horner attended 67’s training camp twice, only to be told both times he didn’t crack a spot on the roster. The Vankleek Hill native worked to round out his game in the CCHL with the Hawkesbury Hawks, and when the Barber Poles ran into injury troubles midway through last season, they made the call to Horner.
Due to both injury and circumstance, Horner appeared in only 12 games, and didn’t register a point. Still, the experience was invaluable, setting the table for an increased role in his sophomore season.
Horner began the season on the back end, where quickly, he found his first OHL point, which was chased by his second point in only his second game of the year. His offence sputtered from there, until he was met with a different challenge: playing forward.
“Coach just told me one day that they were going to try me up front,” Horner said. “It has been really good. It’s lots of fun up there, I never knew how much fun it was.”
Shortly after the Christmas break, Horner began practicing in his new role having never played forward at any point in his life. He had to shake habits, but Horner says it didn’t take long to become comfortable.
“Odd, is the word I would use,” he said, describing the position change. “After a couple of reps, I got used to it pretty quickly.”
It’s clear that Horner has become more comfortable in his new shoes – a change of pace from his favourite pair of fuzzy Crocs. That comfort is bad news for opposing defencemen, who now have to worry about the nearly 200-pounder looking to lay the body on the forecheck.
His work ethic has impressed the coaching staff, earning himself more minutes, even as the Barber Poles get natural forwards back healthy.
“With him, it’s simple,” Milley said. “He does the simple things, he gets pucks deep and he goes to the net. He’s very coachable, and he does the things we ask him to do. He’s the ultimate team player, and he’ll do anything for the team.”
Last weekend, Horner reached a significant milestone, scoring his first OHL goal, deflecting a Caden Kelly shot home in a win over the Peterborough Petes. In much the same way he got rolling in the points department, the very next game, Horner scored again, this time, with his stick.
By talking to Horner, you would never know if the wait for his first goal bothered him, but now, he admits that it’s something he’s happy to have behind him.
“It was pretty cool, definitely a weight off the shoulders,” Horner said. “I’ve just been trying to do my job, and I got rewarded.”
The ask for Horner isn’t to score goals no matter what position he’s playing this season, but Milley is stoked to see him hit the scoresheet.
“It’s nice to see a guy like him get rewarded with some goals,” Milley said. “We’re lucky to have a player who is as versatile as he is.”
Whether or not this leads to the floodgates opening, Horner is only concerned with doing his job to the best of his abilities.
“If it does, it does, but if it doesn’t, it doesn’t,” Horner said. “I’m just trying to keep it simple out there and do my job.”
Although the option to return to defence is still there for the coaches, Horner is happy to play whatever role is required of him to help the team.
“It’s pretty early [in the process] right now, but whatever the team needs me to do, I’ll do,” Horner said. “If that means staying at forward for another little bit, then so be it.”