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Defending the zone: the top Express defensemen of all time

 

Fellow BCHLNetwork contributor Clifford Hofferd recently penned an article examining the current defense corps for the Victoria Grizzlies. In a salute to Clifford, let’s take a gander at the best of the Express defensemen.

Who are the greatest defensemen in Express history? Does Chad Grisdale, the first captain in franchise history, make the list? What about Derek Paige? Chad Betts?

Friendly giant Peter “The Merthinator” Merth was a force on the 2006 RBC Cup winning team, does he make the cut? How about Cam Marks, who played a Chris Tanev-like role on the 2013-14 edition of the team?

In more recent history, does the play of guys like Drew Cooper and Steven Bellini justify their presence in the annals of club history? Let the debate begin!

Alan Mazur

From the time he joined the Express prior to the 2003-04 season, Mazur was a dominant offensive defenseman. The Burnaby product led the team in blueline scoring for his first two full seasons in the league.

In his rookie campaign, Mazur potted nine goals and assisted on 23 others for 32 points. The next season he increased his offensive production netting 10 goals and 39 assists for 49 points.

Mazur was dealt to Merritt just over a month into the 2005-06 season. Despite the change in scenery, he had an outstanding campaign, finishing the season with 70 points on the strength of 15 goals and 55 assists.

These totals were good enough to secure the league’s title as top scoring defenseman and cement his NCAA scholarship to the Rochester Institute of Technology.

While Mazur wasn’t part of any of the Express’ championship teams, his contributions from the back end can’t be overlooked. He is definitely one of the best defensemen in Express history.

Dave Simoes

Simoes was obtained by the Express in the trade that sent Mazur to Merritt during the 2005-06 season. While Mazur was noted for his offensive game, Simoes brought immediate leadership in the dressing room and tenacity on the ice.

Playing a polar opposite style to Mazur, Simoes immediately brought dividends in the form of a lunch bucket attitude, while playing a gritty, sandpaper-like game. Team accountability became a thing and this ultimately paved the way to the team’s 2006 RBC cup victory.

Simoes had a decent season offensively, finishing in third place on the Express’ blueline scoring list with five goals and 21 helpers for 26 points.

The Vanderhoof, BC product posted 18 points in the Fred Page Cup playoffs on the strength of five goals and 13 assists, which was second best on the back end during the post-season. Simoes rose to the occasion during the RBC Cup tournament and notched four assists in five games.

While Simoes never lit it up offensively like others on this list, he can’t be denied as a huge contributing force to the 2006 RBC Cup victory. This single-season performance alone legitimizes his place among the best d-men in club history.

Keith Seabrook

Throughout his Express career, one can’t say that Seabrook was an offensive dynamo in the mold of Mazur. Nor could you describe him as a gritty player like Simoes. The term that aptly describes Seabrook and puts him on this list is one you hear often – a big game player.

Seabrook finished second on the club in scoring among defensemen with 34 points in the 2005-06 season. Despite leading the team’s defense in scoring during the Fred Page Cup playoffs with a solid 19 points, his best was just starting.

Seabrook scored the game-winning goal of game five in the BCHL championship series versus Penticton. He posted a hat trick in the series clinching win during the Doyle Cup against the Alberta Junior Hockey League’s Fort McMurray Oil Barons. The Delta, BC product finished the series with five goals in six games.

However, Seabrook saved the best for last and set up Mark Soares’ overtime winner in the RBC Cup semi-final against the Fort William North Stars of the Superior International Junior Hockey League. That victory punched Coquitlam’s ticket to the RBC Cup final, which the Express won. He wrapped the tournament with three goals and two assists in six games.

Seabrook enjoyed moderate success after leaving the Express for the University of Denver. He was drafted in the second round, 52nd overall of the 2006 NHL Draft by the Washington Capitals.

He returned to Canada for two seasons with the Calgary Hitmen of the Western Hockey League before signing a pro contract with the American Hockey League’s Abbotsford Heat in 2009. It is his big game pedigree in the BCHL that lands him on this list.

Brad Hunt

Hunt was a passenger on the RBC cup championship win in 2006. He played just three games in the regular season and laced ’em up for two more in the Fred Page Cup playoffs. The Maple Ridge native’s story truly begins the following season.

Hunt led the team in scoring from the blue line during the 2006-07 regular season, compiling four goals and 31 assists for 35 points. In the playoffs, he again paced the back end with eight points on the strength of two goals and six assists in 14 games.

The following season, he again led the defense in scoring with 16 goals and 36 assists for 52 points. He also put up seven points in five games during the playoffs.

Hunt was voted the Express’ top defenseman in consecutive seasons from 2006 to 2008 and represented the team at the 2008 BCHL All-Star game.

Of all Express blueliners, Hunt has had the best post-BCHL career. He graduated from Bemidji State University as the Beavers’ all-time leading scorer among defensemen. As a freshman, Hunt also played a pivotal role in Bemidji State’s surprising run to the 2009 Frozen Four final.

Despite not being drafted, Hunt signed an AHL contract with the Chicago Wolves prior to the 2011-12 season.  While in the AHL, Hunt appeared in three consecutive all star games and competed in the hardest shot competition at each of those events.

Hunt has played 179 games in the NHL with the Edmonton Oilers, St. Louis Blues, Nashville Predators, Vegas Golden Knights, and most recently – Minnesota Wild. He played a career-best 59 NHL games with the Wild in 2019-20 and posted career highs in goals, assists and points. While his NHL numbers are solid, it was his play with the Express that lands Hunt on this list.

Marc Biega

No team wins championships without caliber defensemen. The 2013-14 Express was no different in that regard. Cam Marks played a defensive role and shut things down in his own zone. Biega played the smooth-skating, two-way game with a flair for putting the puck in the net.

The Point-Claire Quebec product had a decent rookie campaign in 2012-13 where he tallied four goals and 20 assists for 24 points. Biega was even better in 2013-14 with a franchise-record 17 goals from the blueline. He added 21 assists to lead all defensemen in scoring.

Biega was second on the team in playoff scoring during its 2014 Fred Page Cup championship run with 10 points in 19 games. Zach Hodder led the charge from the back end though, besting Biega by a single point. In a plot twist, Biega actually finished one point ahead of Hodder in scoring during the regular season as the pair tried to outdo each other.

Biega’s dominant regular seasons in the BCHL and Fred Page Cup playoff success in 2014 secure his position as one of the best Express defensemen of all time.

Jake Brien

Admittedly, following the club’s playoff success in the 2013-14 season, there were a few lean years prior to the record-setting 2019-20 campaign. One bright spot amid the team’s navigation through troubled waters was the emergence of Jake Brien.

The Sydney, Nova Scotia native was not a scoring machine like Biega. In fact, Brien only scored 12 points on the strength of three goals and nine assists during the 2016-17 regular season, his best offensive output in the BCHL. What these numbers don’t tell you is the reason why Brien was selected for this list.

Plain and simple, the six-foot, 185 pounder made life miserable for opponents in the Express zone. Nary an opposing forward entered the offensive zone without being in the sights of the #3 train bearing the name Brien on the back of the jersey.

Brien was a flat out hitter, not a tenacious checker in the mold of  Simoes. Brien’s style was more reminiscent of NHL Hall of Famer Scott Stevens. Many opposing players ended up on their proverbial caboose after straying onto Brien’s track.

Brien is currently attending the University of Toronto and playing USPORTS hockey for the Blues.

However, his incredible body checks in the BCHL solidify this fan favourite as one of the best Express defensemen ever.

When we return to the arena, and start playing games for real, who else will challenge for spots on this list? Will freshly minted team captain Noah De La Durantaye be the next Alan Mazur? Will rookie Luke Busby morph into the next Brad Hunt? Or is the next Jake Brien lurking somewhere on the roster?

Whether from the comfort of their own home or once fans are allowed back in the stands, the next wave of blueliners looks to make their mark against some of the best to ever sport the Coquitlam Express jersey.