He grew up in southern Florida before moving North
By Blake Sebring, firstname.lastname@example.org
Monday, December 26, 2016 6:00 PM
Plenty of hockey players have come to play for the Fort Wayne Komets over the years from such exotic places as Las Vegas, Chibougamau (Quebec), Oms (Russia), Helsinki, Tampere (Finland), Nijmegen (Netherlands), Litomerice (Czech Republic) and even the vast outreaches of Huntertown, but Brady Vail may have the most unique home address.
Vail, 22, grew up in Palm City, Fla., and didn't start playing ice hockey until he was 10 years old. Normally, either of those situations would have meant he had a very slim chance at a professional career, but Vail and his family continued to make sacrifices to give him a chance. Now the center is probably the Komets' top prospect to move up to the American Hockey League where he's already played 18 games this season.
Because there weren't a lot of ice rinks in south Florida, Vail started playing roller hockey at age 4, and at age 10 made the transition to ice hockey at Port St. Lucie which is about 45 minutes north of Palm City. Even today, there are only 17 hockey rinks in Florida despite having five professional teams.
"I had been playing a lot so when I started playing ice hockey, I picked stuff up quickly," Vail said. "The (roller hockey) game is very offensive, no offsides, and it’s four-on-four. It’s good for your hands and making plays and getting more skilled. There’s not a lot of stopping and starting.
"It definitely helped me start. I still have little flaws from it with stops and starts, but it helped my vision and being able to create plays. There’s a lot of positives. In the summer we’ll still play every now and then. Once I switched, I fell in love with the game and never really looked back."
He played for the Florida Junior Panthers for three years before moving to Detroit with his mother and sister to play for Compuware. His dad would fly up on weekend as Vail played there for three years, winning two national titles before playing with Waterloo in the United States Hockey League.
That helped him earn a spot in the Ontario Hockey League with the Windsor Spitfires where his stats improved enough each season to earn a fourth-round selection in the NHL draft by Montreal in 2012.
Now he's one of the few players from Florida who are playing at such a high level professionally. According to Hockey-Reference.com, there have been nine NHL players born in Florida and nine from Indiana.
"There are a select few of us, and most of us are known as the Florida guys," Vail said. "I haven’t lived down there for a season since I was 12. I like living up north and playing in the cold and having it feel like it’s hockey season. I really like it here, it’s a great group of guys and a good team."
Vail still goes home to Florida in the summers where he loves to golf and hang with his other hockey buddies. Now he's moved to a spot closer to a gym and the rink. He still hangs out with his Florida hockey buddies, including Cincinnati's Andrew Yogan who is from Coral Springs.
"Since I was 10 years old, hockey is all that I’ve done, it was year-round hockey all the time," Vail said. "It was family trips, everything. My family has meant everything to me, and they did a lot for me and made me into the player I am now. They are still really behind me, and are always the loudest ones cheering for me."
His family is coming in for games this week to check up on him the first time since he signed with the Komets this summer. That's if Vail doesn't get called up again.
"Right now I’m still trying to push it and make it to the next level," he said. "I want to play for as long as I can. It’s what I love to do."
For more on the Komets, follow Blake Sebring on Twitter at @blakesebring, at his blog tailingthekomets.com and on Facebook at Blake Sebring.