First, the penalty box door opens. Then, the player returns to the ice and the teams are back at full strength. Then comes the whistle.
Listen for it in the second or third period of any men’s hockey game. It comes from assistant coach Brent Brekke, who’s been signaling the end of penalties since he was an assistant with the Chicago Freeze of the NAHL.
“I did that with the junior team because we’d have guys not being aware when they’re on the ice when the power play or penalty kill is ending,” he said.
Although Brekke might be most noticeable for his even-strength alert sound, he is a big contributor behind the scenes to the Red’s on-ice success.
“He’s a huge part of our team,” acknowledged junior forward Ryan Vesce.
The fourth-year member of the coaching staff has been working with head coach Mike Schafer ’86 for longer than his time at Cornell. Brekke played under Schafer from 1990-94 at Western Michigan when Schafer was an assistant coach with the Broncos. Brekke was the team captain in his senior year and showed the leadership ability that Schafer wanted in a coach.
“When I was playing for Coach Schafer at Western,” Brekke recalled, “it’s something he had said to me, ‘When you’re done playing the game of hockey and you’re interested in coaching, give me a call and let me know.'”
After Brekke graduated, he entered the Quebec Nordiques’ farm system, playing in the AHL, one step below the NHL. Brekke spent a year playing for the Cornwall Aces, and then after the Nordiques moved to Denver and became the Avalanche, he played a season as captain of the Avs’ team in Dayton, Ohio. His experience in professional hockey is a valuable asset to the Red coaching staff, which handles players aiming for the pros.
“He knows what it takes to get to the next level,” said Schafer. “He was in the Colorado or the Quebec organization, so he can relate to guys and let them know, ‘You might be doing this in college, but it’s not going to wash at the next level.'”
When he finished his playing career, Brekke joined the staff of the Chicago Freeze, a junior team, before making the call to Schafer when the assistant coaching position became open. It’s a decision he hasn’t regretted.
“Being under Coach Schafer as a player and now on the other side as an assistant coach for him is something I very much enjoy,” said Brekke.
With the Red, Brekke’s duties involve working with the goaltenders and defensemen during practice and analyzing both opponents’ and Cornell’s systems when games come around. Brekke spends the first period of games in the press box, diagramming breakouts, neutral zone traps, and cycles so that the Red can make the proper adjustments during the intermission.
“Sometimes when you’re on the bench in the heat of the game, you miss some of the stuff, so it’s better to have an extra set of eyes up away from the ice sheet,” said Brekke. “You see a little bit more and sometimes you don’t get caught up in the game as much.”
The coach does admit to occasionally being swept up in the action when he is on the bench, though. Once in a while, the whistle doesn’t follow a player out of the penalty box.
“I get caught up in the heat of the battle as well sometimes, where I miss the end of the penalty.”
At practices, Brekke is an excellent tutor of the game, often pulling players aside to go over technique with them.
“He’s a great coach, taking guys aside one-on-one and really working with guys individually on their own skills,” said senior co-captain Stephen B