The last 18 months have been full of ups and downs for Vancouver Giants defenseman Brett Kulak. His team made the playoffs in 2011-12, firmly in the middle of the WHL’s Western Conference pack but were upset by Spokane in the first round. Kulak was then drafted by the Calgary Flames in the fourth round of the 2012 NHL Draft and he was able to compare himself against the team’s other defensive prospects at development camp. The NHL lockout eliminated the chance to play in any pre-season games, but instead he returned to the Giants.
When it became apparent that the club wasn’t going to be contenders, they turned into the skid – shipping out talented players like Matt Bellerive, David Musil, Nathan Burns and Trevor Cheek in order to maximize their draft picks.
As a result, the Giants finished dead-last in the WHL, but Kulak thrived and was able to play big minutes and learn how to adapt to virtually any in-game situation. He finished third in team scoring and his 32 assists were second-best on the club. He had more than twice as many points as the next closest defender. In other words: the Giants didn’t have a great year by any stretch, but Brett Kulak made the most of the experience he was given. He even suited up for the Abbotsford Heat on an amateur try-out, playing four games with Calgary’s AHL farm club.
I had the chance to catch up with Kulak at Flames development camp earlier this month.
Ryan Pike: How’s your summer going so far?
It’s going good. This year I decided to… I went home for a month after I left Abbotsford, just outside of Edmonton, and then I went back to Vancouver. I was there for just over a month before I came here. Now I’m training with Ian Gallagher, he’s our strength coach for the Giants, so it’s been really good over there.
I had the chance to talk to you during the season. The Giants didn’t have a very good year, but you mentioned that you were having a good year being able to play in every situation. Going forward, how do you take the positives out of this season?
I definitely grew a lot. Sometimes I felt like maybe it was too much for me just being my second year in the season. But this year, now I know what to expect because I was put in those positions, so I know what it takes. This year, I want to be right back in those situations but be able to perform my best at all times, just really help the team this year. I think we’ll have a good year.
What are the expectations for the Vancouver Giants team and you as a leader on that team this year?
I talked to a lot of the guys and everyone’s really excited, biting at the bullet to get back. Our GM, Scott Bonner, made some good moves. He brought in Dalton Thrower, hopefully he’ll be with us next year. We’re getting a bit older. If our young guys can continue to develop good, everyone’s excited and I think we’ll have a good team this year.
Do you look at the Calgary Hitmen as a bit of a model in terms of having a bounce-back year? They had a rebuilding year a couple years back and missed the playoffs, then were able to rebound and re-establish themselves over the past few years once again.
Yeah, we kind of lost our identity – the Giants identity – a bit this year, so we’ve got to re-establish that from the first drop of the puck of the opening game this season. Just really establish that we’re here to win this season and we’re not gonna mess around again.
You were able to play a few games in Abbotsford this season. Based on that experience, how close are you to being able to be a pro and compete at that level?
It was awesome for me, a really big eye-opener for sure. You never know, some guys are up down on the Coast one day and then they’re back up, or some guys will be up with the Flames one day and then back to Abbotsford. You see how quickly you can get moved around, so you just want to be really good and you want to be in the line-up all the time there. I got another good full year ahead of me here before I can make that jump to Abbotsford, so I just gotta take everyday and get better and just make the most of my time.
Did anybody in Abbotsford mentor you or show you the ropes?
I didn’t room with him, but Joe Callahan, I kind of talked with him quite a bit. I watched what he would do and he would tell me different things. He’s 30 and he’s raising a family and stuff. He’s definitely a leader on the team, so he was a good guy to look up to for me.