One game, one goal: Brendan Bryson’s highly anticipated goal-scoring touch is already clear

Brendan Bryson moved from the first round of the 2020 Golden Knights to a weak spot in a defensive area just under the right circle, flipping his hips open to receive a one-time breaker, and pulverizing the ball into the net to score a solid playing goal on Wednesday night.

It was a common sight. Bryson has scored 21 goals at the University of Michigan this season, many of which have come from the same spot on the ice and the same way. Only this time, Bryson was paid to do so.

The 20-year-old in Manhattan Beach, California, made his Silver Knights debut on Wednesday at the Dollar Loan Center in Henderson. It only took him eight minutes to score his first NHL goal.

“I thought he was really good tonight,” Henderson coach Manny Vivieros said of Bryson. “Obviously it’s going to take a while for him to live up to speed, but he’s a really smart, bright kid and he’s also very skilled.”

It’s been a busy week for Bryson, as the Michigan Wolverines were eliminated at the Frozen Four last Thursday. He traveled to Las Vegas on Monday night, signed a trial agreement with the Silver Knights on Tuesday morning, and made his professional debut after just one practice with his new teammates.

“Being in Michigan for two years was really important to my development, and I’ve grown a lot as a player and as a person,” Bryson said. “I feel like it’s time to get professional, (keep on) getting stronger and evolve.”

Bryson was a second-team pick out of the Big Ten after scoring 42 points in 38 games in his second season in Michigan. He was also named to the Big Ten All Championship and NCAA All Territories team after helping lead the Wolverines to the Frozen Four. After a disappointing overtime loss to Denver in the National Semifinals, Bryson chose to forgo his final two years of NCAA eligibility.

“It was a tough loss but a great season,” Bryson said. “I didn’t want to finish playing. When I was talking to the organization after my season was over, it made sense for me to come here and play games with Henderson. Getting my feet wet at a professional level.”

Bryson did nothing but fill the net with balls on every level he competed in. In his only USHL season (2019-20), Bryson scored 24 goals in 45 games for the Chicago Steel, ranking him ninth in the league by scoring when he was 18 years old. Last season, he led Michigan in scoring as a freshman and was seventh in the country in points per game as a rookie. This year, Bryson’s goal-scoring rate went from 10 in his freshman year to 21 when he was a sophomore. This marched in Michigan again, and finished in a tie for sixth place in the nation.

Bryson scored two goals to help Team USA win a gold medal at the U-20 World Championships in Edmonton, then when NHL players were pulled from the Olympics in Beijing this year, Bryson was selected to play for Team USA. He scored the match-winning goal in each of his first two Olympic games.

Viveiros watched Brisson all season and said his vision impresses him the most.

“It sees the ice really well,” Vivieros said. “He knows where he is in the right places, and if you get a puck disk you can expect something exciting to happen.”

Not surprisingly, the first thing Bryson did as a professional was to find the soft spot in defensive coverage and score. The players honored for seeing them on the ice are usually the forwards who have a knack for finding passing lanes to create their teammates. But in Bryson’s case, he’s using his hockey IQ off the puck, using his location to create those tracks for himself.

“It was fitting that Bryson scored a one-off off the wing on his debut, because that’s his bread and butter,” he said. Athletic Potential analyst Scott Wheeler said. “He’s a killer one-touch shooter in the right half of the area, he’s smart at problem-solving all over the ice and just has a knack for playing in a deft offensive manner. Bryson would never trade his two-way forward, fast, or the strong type, but he’s an offensive player Strong with a second aspect and higher power play that slows down the game and knows how to use space.”

Even less than 10 minutes into his professional debut, in a new environment with new teammates he had never played with, Brisson had enough to give his defending man a lane to find. It got him closer than he would have liked to the goal line, giving him a tricky angle on his shot, but Bryson felt that was the sweet spot.

“I just wanted to give him a lane to find me, and he was able to do it,” Bryson recalls. “Maybe if I had been a little higher or a little lower he wouldn’t have been able to do that. I feel like I’m trying to open up, no matter where he is on the right side.”

And with a shot as accurate as Bryson’s shot, it doesn’t really matter where he got the disc from.

“I feel like I only have good passersby who have always been feeding me,” Bryson said of his penchant for one-time goalscoring. “This opens up an opportunity for me to take my position for once, and I hope to hit the net and get in.”

Bryson was surrounded by Michigan’s elite players. The Wolverines had seven first-round picks on their stacked list, including the 2021 No. 1 and No. 2 pick Owen Power and Mattie Bernieres. Bryson has undoubtedly benefited from playing with these playmakers, but the fact that his scoring prowess has translated into every league he has played is encouraging for his future as a gold rider.

He seemed comfortable with the disc on his stick on Wednesday night, which is another good sign.

“He was a lot faster,” Bryson said of his debut. “Everyone is bigger and stronger, but I feel like I had time to make plays. It was good to have the first match under my belt because I know I will be better in the next.”

Bryson’s shot alone is a weapon, but at only twenty he is still developing other aspects of his game.

“I feel like everywhere I’m a more complete player,” he said of his development over the past year. “I just came into production in a strength game and production in five on five. I worked on my defensive more when I was in Michigan. Just winning fights, getting stronger and working my shot. From year one to year two, I feel like I’ve made a good leap. I just I try to keep getting better every day.”

The silver rider committed seven penalties on Wednesday, which greatly limited Bryson’s icy timing. But even in the small sample, he showed signs of being able to compete with stronger and larger players. In the second period, Bryson put a heavy blow on the boards that sent the Stockton Heat player down on the ice, the fans on their feet.

“I feel like I got hit really hard in Michigan, so when I got to hit an even bigger guy, it was kind of cool,” Bryson said with a smile.

Seconds after this check was delivered, the Heat hit back with a blow on Bryson, but the rookie absorbed the blow and stayed on his skis.

“He’s a 200-foot player!” Defender Ian McCushin of the Silver Knights stepped in while Bryson responded to the blow.

For now, Bryson will remain with the Silver Knights. He will likely play in each of the last six games of the regular season, hoping to acclimatize to the professional game and the matched Henderson systems of the Golden Knights. Then he will be with the Silver Knights in their Calder Cup playoffs, for which they have already qualified. After losing at the Frozen Four, Bryson said he’s entering that stretch with “unfinished business” on his mind.

“It was a tough loss against Denver, and obviously I’m going to do everything I can to buy a part of the team and help win games in the playoffs and the rest of the year,” he said.

Furthermore, Bryson will begin work this summer and will attend Golden Knights training camp with the goal of making up the roster. Given the depth of Vegas up front, it won’t be easy, but a young player with the ability to score and an entry level contract is an attractive piece for a team like the Golden Knights.

(Photos and video by Henderson Silver Knights)

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