Penguins prospect Brad Thiessen participates in a conditioning camp at the Icoplex at Southpointe Tuesday.
By Shelly Anderson Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The sky-high ride is over. Brad Thiessen this week settled into a situation a little less meteoric than he had become accustomed to, as one of the Penguins prospects at their summer camp.
None of the other 25 players participating in practices, testing, seminars and outings had a spring like Thiessen had.
An undrafted goaltender, he turned pro after his junior season at Northeastern and suddenly found himself an observer and practice player for the Penguins during their run to the Stanley Cup.
"Two months earlier, I was sitting in class, taking tests. Then I was holding the Stanley Cup," Thiessen said. "It was quite the two-month experience and something that I'll never forget.
"You can't replace that experience I got during that run, just watching the guys and how they prepared, took it so seriously and came together to win the Cup. Having a front-row seat to that was pretty special."
Having a seat on charter jet rides, staying in luxury hotels and getting the NHL per diem were all new to Thiessen, too.
Most of all, Thiessen studied Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury.
"I've never seen a goalie who went to the Stanley Cup final get criticized so much," Thiessen said. "He didn't bat an eye. It doesn't matter to him what's going on around him. He's always happy, always working really hard in practice."
In particular, Thiessen was impressed with the way Fleury bounced back from giving up five Detroit goals and being pulled in a Game 5 loss in the final. He and the Penguins won the next two games to clinch the Cup.
"To be able to come back after that ... again, the questions came from the media, but it didn't bother him," said Thiessen, who as a journalism major noticed the reporters' questions.
"He was out on the ice the next day working on things he needed to work on and came back and won the Cup."
Now it's Thiessen who is a bit back to earth -- something made easier by his grounded personality and religious upbringing.
Those traits have helped him in net, too. Thiessen, a 6-foot, 180-pounder, describes himself as positionally sound but, like most, in need of working on rebound control against NHL snipers.
"He's got a calm, professional approach," said Northeastern coach Greg Cronin, a former American Hockey League coach who also served the New York Islanders as assistant coach and director of player development. "His biggest attribute is his poise."
Other than some empty-net time, Thiessen played every minute for Northeastern last season, earning the same record as the team, 25-12-4, with a 2.12 goals-against average and a .931 save percentage. He was a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award given to the top college hockey player.
"Those are really decent numbers for college," said Penguins director of amateur scouting Jay Heinbuck. "He brought that team a long way, made them a notch higher than they might have been."
Thiessen and Northeastern teammate Joe Vitale, a Penguins seventh-round draft pick in 2005, signed April 3 with the Penguins and were assigned to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the AHL.
Thiessen didn't play there, then joined the Penguins April 30, between the first and second rounds of the playoffs.
"He was one of the highlighted free agents this year by all the NHL teams," said Heinbuck, a Northeastern alumnus. "People from every team were coming in to watch him play, and we feel fortunate to get a prospect of that caliber."
Thiessen was not drafted after graduating from Mennonite Educational Institute in British Columbia. He credits his religion and lifestyle for his quiet, even-keel personality. He remained involved in the Mennonite church in Boston while in college and will continue to do so wherever he plays.
He pointed out that his family is not part of the Old Order Mennonite religion akin to the Amish in which communities are more self-contained and traditional.
"It's a little newer than that," he said.
After high school, Thiessen played two seasons of tier II junior hockey in the British Columbia Hockey League before heading across the continent to Northeastern.
Cronin said when he recruited Thiessen, the two were honest with each other. Cronin promised he would rebuild the program around the goaltender. Thiessen promised he would give his all -- until he felt it was time to turn pro.
"My goal was always to play in the NHL," Thiessen said. "Whether that opportunity to go pro came along before I finished school or after, that was what I was going after. It happened to be a great situation here after my third year there, but it was a great three years there."