Arizona isn’t usually the first place that comes to mind when one thinks of hockey.
That was a sentiment Rams men’s hockey associate coach Nathaniel Brooks shared until he landed in Glendale—home of the Arizona Coyotes.
One of the first things he remembers is the heat. It felt like it was a thousand degrees outside.
But pretty soon Brooks could tell the state loved its hockey.
“I was shocked that it’s one of the fastest-growing hockey markets in the United States,” he said.
Brooks spent a week with the Arizona Coyotes at their development camp back in August.
The experience is a stepping stone, he says, on his way to breaking into the NHL’s coaching ranks.
In Glendale, Brooks had lunch with Coyotes’ general manager Bill Armstrong. Afterwards, he hit the ice at Gila River Arena.
Brooks said his biggest takeaway from the camp was not anything that took place on the ice, but rather the level of open communication between the coaches, and the developing relationships with the players — especially those on the cusp of making their NHL debuts.
“I feel now I’ve seen it all,” said Brooks. “I feel really comfortable in my skin and where I’m at in my coaching journey. Spending time in Arizona with the Coyotes’ staff and realizing how similar I am to all those individuals was a huge eye-opener for me.”
In what he describes as a surreal experience, Brooks was behind the bench for the Arizona Coyotes’ black vs. white scrimmage.
To make the experience even more memorable, he was right alongside Duante Abercrombie, the assistant coach of the Stevenson University Mustangs in Maryland.
Brooks said he was able to take on a number of responsibilities and showcase his strengths behind the bench.
“Being on the bench in-game — that’s my forte,” he said, “also player development, giving players feedback on what they need to do, helping staff assess who’s doing well and who’s not, that was a really awesome experience.”
While Brooks trains many NHL players and prospects during the off-season, this was the break he had been waiting for.
Coming out of it, he says he’s ready for the next one. And while Brooks isn’t a household name yet, he’s hoping to change that.
This is Brooks’s first season as an associate coach with the Rams, after six years as an assistant and development coach.
He’s currently putting his heart and soul into the Rams, as the team prepares for another run for the Queen’s Cup, the OUA men’s hockey championship.
At three wins and two losses, the Rams are currently second in the OUA Eastern division, with two games left in the first half of their season.
If the right opportunity comes along outside the Rams, Brooks says he will make the decision that is best for his family.
After his experience in Arizona, he feels it’s only a matter of time before he gets a call.
“I have three girls at home and my wife,” he said. “It’s got to be the right situation for us as a family, but we’re sitting down waiting for the right opportunity to come.”
Still, there was a moment back in Arizona, when Brooks laced up his skates and stepped onto the ice at the Gila River Arena, when he felt clear about why he does what he does, and why he loves it.
“All the hard work that’s gone in, from my playing days to coaching days to actually being there,” he said. “I took a little look around and I was like, ‘wow this is what it’s all about.’”