Q&A with Canada’s Brennan Othmann: On world juniors, NHL goals … and fondue

Brennan Othmann No. 7 of Team Canada skates against Team Sweden during the first period in the 2023 IIHF World Junior Championship at Scotiabank Centre on December 31, 2022 in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

Brennan Othmann has been one of Canada’s more consistent forwards. Usually playing on the first or second line, the 2021 first-round pick of the New York Rangers (16th overall) has used his size, skill and hustle to great effect. 

Heading into Canada’s semifinal Wednesday with the United States, Othmann – who turns 20 on Jan. 5, the day of the medal games – has two goals and two assists for four points, averaging 17:57 of ice time in five games. 

We chatted with him about comparing world junior tournaments, his play in the OHL and … raclette? 

Note: This interview has been edited for clarity and length. 

Sportsnet: First of all, tell me a little bit about the Swiss connection. 

Brennan Othmann: It’s funny, actually. My dad played over there with my uncle. It was really cool. They played over there for upwards of 10 years, so we have a Swiss background, Swiss connection there. I have my Swiss passport and my players’ licence, and so during the COVID year, I was able to go over there and experience that life over there and play over there. So, it was a fun time. It’s cool that I have that dual citizenship, but it’s kind of a fun country to be a dual citizen of as well. 

SN: So, fondue is a big thing, then. Or is that a stereotype? 

BO: Yeah, yeah, no, fondue and raclette, that’s a big thing on New Year’s. On New Year’s, back at home, we would have maybe fondue or raclette and Christmas Eve dinners with my grandmother and my dad’s brothers, my uncle and we’ll hang out, raclette, fondue and it’s a great time, good social event. 

SN: What has it been like developing a career through the pandemic, with cancelled seasons and the bubble?  

BO: During that, it was some positives and some negatives, for sure. I think the positive part was, I was fortunate to be able to play and I was fortunate to be able to go over there and experience that life and see Switzerland, see that culture over there and a little bit of that background and where my dad played. My uncle lives over there, he coaches over there, so to be able to go over there and spend a lot of time with his family and, kind of like I said, build that culture was a positive. But at the same time, the negative was, you didn’t get to play in the OHL. You didn’t get to see your buddies play, and that’s kind of the sad part. I don’t want to speak too much individually, but I feel bad for those players that didn’t get the chance to showcase themselves going into the draft year, and that sucks for them. All of us kids want to play in the NHL, we want to get drafted in the first round. The first round is a big deal, or let alone even just get drafted, and some of those guys didn’t get to show off their opportunity and their skill set during that year, and I just feel bad for those players.  

SN: You have scored a lot of goals in your career. What kind of player do you think you can be in the NHL? 

BO: I think I can be a 200-foot goal scorer. I think that … I don’t want to say too much, but I have confidence in my ability to score. I have confidence in the ability of my shot, and I think my IQ. At the next level they’re bigger, faster and stronger, for sure, and they’re older and they’re more mature up there and they’ve played in the NHL for many years. But at the same time, I’m still confident in myself. I’m still young and I’ve still got some room to develop and to grow, but I hope to be a goal scorer and a big guy in the NHL one day. If it’s not within the first five years of my career, hopefully it’s in the next five and the next five after that. But it would just be an honour, one day throwing on the Ranger jersey again and playing my first game. So, I’m just looking forward to that day and try not to worry about the type of player I’m going to be in the NHL and kind of let the cards and the chips fall where they fall. 

SN: What’s it like seeing all those scorers in that Rangers lineup? 

BO: Yeah, it’s great. I mean, seeing that culture and their organization, how rich it is, and their background, history and all of it there in New York is unbelievable. They’re a first-class organization. Them and my agency set up for me to go to the draft and experience the draft, and that was just great by them and that just goes to show how great of an organization they are. And I speak very highly of the Rangers not just because they’re the team I’m drafted by and they own my rights, but at the same time, I love Madison Square Garden, it’s an amazing arena to play in, the jerseys are awesome, the staff is great, players are great, and you get a lot of cool names on that team, for sure. And seeing that lineup and seeing the guys that I can look up to one day and get advice from is awesome. 

SN: What’s it going to be like competing against some of these guys for a spot? You want to get on that team eventually. 

BO: It’s obviously a business and stuff like that. But at the same time, you’re still on the same team and those guys have been playing there for many years. Some guys, they’ve been playing there for almost 10 years and they have a lot of good players on that team, for sure. And obviously it’s a competitive game, it’s a competitive lifestyle. But, like I said, I want to go into the camp next year and try my best and give my all. My goal is to make the Rangers next year. I think everyone’s goal at our age is to make the team, especially the high-calibre players that some players are. But at the same time, I want to have fun, I want to learn, I want to develop. It’s cliche, there’s obviously no rush. But at the same time, I think I can and I think I’m willing to do it next year, so we’ll see what happens.

SN: What was it like playing junior hockey in Flint, Mich.? 

BO: It was great. I honestly really enjoyed it there. But you hear a lot of bad things about Flint. Obviously, they had the water crisis there and you know it’s Flint, Mich., but honestly it wasn’t like that at all. You live in a beautiful place just outside of Flint and all the players are great there, the staff’s nice. All the guys on that team, honestly, made that team special and they’re good guys to play with and for, and Flint was a great place to play and the fans there are awesome. And I was very fortunate to be their captain for a couple years and it was awesome to be there. 

Brennan Othmann, formerly of the Flint Firebirds. (Natalie Shaver/OHL)

SN: You were traded to the Peterborough Petes in November. What’s that adjustment been like? 

BO: It’s been different, for sure. Obviously, I spent three years in Flint and that had a special place in my heart due to being a captain and I’ve been there since I was 16, they drafted me and all that stuff. I’ve played with a lot of those guys for four years, have been great buddies with a lot of them. I still am. But Peterborough is a lot closer to home. It’s about a 50-minute drive for myself and for my parents. So, it’s a nice, easy drive for us (from Pickering). It’s a great fan base to play out of. The arena, I know it’s old and there’s some questions about it, but, you know what, once you get used to it, it’s a great arena to play at. It’s old, it’s got a great history. And I love throwing on that jersey every night; it’s something special, for sure. And after this is done, I can’t wait to get back there. 

SN: What kind of season have you had since you joined the Petes? 

BO: Last year in Flint, I was getting all my points and I was a goal scorer and stuff like that, and that’s all fun and games and everything, you like seeing that, but at the same time, you want to develop a 200-foot game, you want to worry about the details. And that’s the biggest thing that the Rangers were telling me this year is, they know I can score, they know I can put up the points, they’re not worried about that. They’re looking at the details of my game. I know with Rob Wilson there, he’s coached a lot of pro players. He’s coached pro, so I know that he was going to develop me into an NHL player. My stats don’t look the greatest. I know I’ve only scored two goals there, but I’m not too worried about that, I’m not too concerned about that. I think that’s just a confidence-level thing. There was some family stuff that was going on that took a little sway in that. But now it’s a new year, everything’s going on, it’s going great and everything’s kind of hit the reset button. At the same time, I want to worry about the details of my game: Good detail in positioning, stick positioning, know when to chip the puck in and when to carry it. Little things like that, it’s very important, especially at the next level, and I know that the Rangers are more concerned about that than scoring right now. 

SN: Do you care to get into the family stuff that was going on? 

BO: I’ve gotten into it a little bit on Twitter about it. My grandparents were just dealing with a little bit of stuff, and my grandparents … have a special place in my heart and they’ve done a lot for me and my mom and my dad and my sister. They’re great. My grandfather was fortunately able to come up here to watch a game, so I’m happy that they’re here and he’s here.  

SN: This is your second world juniors. What’s been the biggest surprise this time around from the last one? The one in Edmonton must seem a little odd now. 

BO: Yeah, this is more of a traditional one. I think the summer one was fun and everything with all the players we had, you know, the big goals we scored and all (Mason McTavish’s) great play and everything. But I think here, the biggest thing for us, and the coolest thing, is the crowd. In Edmonton, yeah, you get to play in Edmonton Oilers’ arena, you get to use their room and all that fun stuff, but at the same time, due to it being in the summertime, they didn’t get many fans at our games, which isn’t a bad thing by any means. But here, in Eastern Canada, they’ve been unbelievable hosts and they’re always cheering and they’re always into the game, no matter what the score is. And it’s so fun to play. And I know he’s sitting on the bench … and we were sitting there and we were like, this is crazy. I mean, a minute and a half left, and they’re just giving us a standing ovation, clapping. … They’re screaming “M-V-P” at (Connor Bedard) and it’s something crazy, it’s something special. I’ve witnessed it as a fan, but I haven’t witnessed that as a player, and that’s something really cool. 

Canada’s Mason McTavish (23) and Brennan Othmann (15) celebrate a goal against Slovakia during second period 2022 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship action. (Jason Franson/CP)

SN: Where do you see yourself a year from now? 

BO: It’s hard to say because I believe, and I think that I’m capable, to play in the NHL next year. I I really do believe that. I’m confident in myself. I know it’s going to take a good offseason for myself to do that. … But at the same time, playing at the next level is hard and I want to really work hard this summer at being capable of playing there. I hope this time next year, I’m going back to New York from Christmas break. I’m looking forward to that time and looking forward to the training camp next year to see what happens. 

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