SPOTLIGHT: Hunter Brzustewicz
“We are both super competitive people but at the end of the day we are tightly knit and we like to joke around with one another often. The rivalry between the teams is always fun, but add my brother to that mix and it will bring the best out of me.”
Sibling rivalry is presented as a battle of supremacy and a shared love for healthy competition. Whether the battle takes place on or off the ice, their athletic prowess serves as a testament to the valued bond and relationship of siblings. The same can be said for the brotherhood between sophomore defenseman Hunter Brzustewicz of the Kitchener Rangers and his brother Henry, who now plays for the London Knights.
Growing up in Washington Township, Michigan, Hunter was the third child with two older sisters (Hannah and Hailey) and a younger brother (Henry). Despite this, it was Hunter who became the first in the family to play the sport of hockey. The Brzustewicz family grew up on a bunch of different sports, but for Hunter, his passion for hockey was the sport that stood out the most.
“I was just passing by a rink one day and I asked my mom what it was and she told me it was an ice rink to play hockey. Soon thereafter, I went and got skating lessons, and the rest was history. Although we were always watching football, baseball, and basketball at the house, anytime I could get to the rink I would.”
With younger brother Henry entering the league as a first-round pick playing for the Knights this season, the two faced off against one another for the first time in a game that had been marked on the calendar since September. Given the rivalry between the Knights and the Rangers and the mix of camaraderie with fierce competition intertwined, their relationship adds another element of intensity between the two teams.
Brzustewicz notes that this was something he could have never imagined and a scenario that did not seem to be in the cards. After playing minor hockey in Michigan, he was offered a scholarship at the age of 13 to play Division I hockey at the University of Michigan, which at first glance, he opted to accept. However, when the opportunity struck to play in the OHL, he de-committed from Michigan to join the Blueshirts because he knew it was the spot for him – the feeling was mutual for Rangers nation.
Even though he opted out of the college route and the chance to play close to home, Brzustewicz still had the opportunity to represent the red, white, and blue on the national stage playing for the USNTDP (US National Team Development Program) for two seasons. To proudly represent his country, he valued this as the best experience of his life.
As he committed to R-Town seeking a greater opportunity, his transition was seamless as Brzustewicz would produce when given the chance, he scored 57 points in 68 games in his freshman season with the team. Given the sensational start to his OHL career, he was projected to be selected in the 2023 NHL Entry draft throughout the early rounds, in what he recalls to be a stressful and long wait leading up to the 75th overall pick in the third round.
With the Vancouver Canucks on the clock, Brzustewicz would hear his name called in a moment that will not be soon forgotten for the star-studded defenseman.
“I was patient, but it felt like a long wait. It was stressful leading up to it just being there all week, especially the day of. It was a sigh of relief when my name got called and I was extremely happy to be selected by the Vancouver Canucks.”
Before kicking off the 2023-24 OHL season, he had the privilege to attend the Canucks’ development camp, which was instrumental in converting his weaknesses into strengths. As he has demonstrated in his second season, Brzustewicz has willingly stuck to his game, already tallying 28 points in just 17 games played this year. His rapid start is highlighted through a 14-game point streak heading into November including six games with at least three points in the first month of the season.
Being thought of as a high IQ defenseman, through his Adam Fox and John Klingberg type of playstyle, Brzustewicz prides himself in providing support for his teammates and valuing play on both sides of the ice.
This mindset within the 18-year-old has rewarded his play this season as he earned defenseman of the month honours in October, granted that he was the leading points-getter in the OHL (5 goals, 20 assists). Brzustewicz became the first Rangers blueliner to be named OHL defenseman of the month since Ryan Murphy in January 2012, a truly remarkable feat for such a young player at this level.
With his team getting off to an excellent start, Brzustewicz believes the group has been playing outstanding hockey but notes that they cannot get too far ahead of themselves. As a fundamental and sound leader of this young core, Brzustewicz is seeking to take this team to the next level moving forward and sustain the same level of play with a fresh slate of prominent games on the horizon.
“We have a young group and we don’t want to look too far ahead and get overconfident. I think we have done a good job of staying level-headed and finding a balance of confidence within ourselves but also having respect for our opponents on a nightly basis. We have been playing great and it’s shown through the positive results powered by a strong work ethic. I’d like to see us continue to compete at this level.”
Written by Evan Doerfler