In Fort St. John, British Columbia, the major sport in town is played on ice. Dennis Robertson is the second recent Brown Bear to hail from this small town in Northern Canada, located at mile 47 on the Alaskan Highway, bringing the town's battle-ready work ethic and value of community to the rink at Meehan Auditorium.
As Robertson tells it, hockey was everything when he was growing up, and that attitude and focus has transcended into his play at Brown. In tracing his development and progression through the ranks of youth hockey, he recalls the countless early morning practices and weekends spent traveling with his dad, Jeff, to tournaments and road games all over the Province. His father's dedication is visible in his son's approach to the sport. As Robertson says, "I really owe him everything and don't give him enough credit for getting me to where I am today."
While his roots in hockey are similar to those of his teammates, his mentality towards the sport stands apart. Much of that is due to his upbringing and immersion in a culture where hockey is life, and life is giving everything you have in pursuit of your goals, whatever they may be. Fort St. John is a blue-collar community whose well-being is centered in agriculture, forestry and the oil industry. It's a lifestyle based in physical labor and, while potentially lucrative, it requires a unique mindset and work ethic.
Robertson is living that exact same mentality on the East Side of Providence. This "all in" attitude was instilled in him from an early age, both inside the rink and off the ice. Hockey in Fort St. John is eternally competitive and essentially physical. Robertson was taught to "be hungry, be physical and win every puck," and the competitive drive inherent in his community became an integral part of his character.
As Brown's associate head coach Mark White discusses, "through the recruiting process it was visible that Dennis was mature and committed as a student and athlete. On the ice he was extremely competitive, and what really stood out was his ability to play and practice hard every day. We knew he would be a guy we could build the program around".
In many ways that vision has come to fruition, with Robertson being named the captain of this year's team. He has experienced considerable success in his first two years as a Bear, leading the team's defensemen in scoring both seasons and earning recognition from the Ivy League and the ECAC. During his freshman campaign, he earned the James H. Fullerton award as the first year player who contributed the most to the success of the team, and he was drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the sixth round of the 2011 draft following that season. Outside of the rink, he has earned a berth on the ECAC Hockey All-Academic Team for two consecutive years. In 2012, he was recognized by the Lifesaving Society BC and Yukon Branch with a Silver Medal for Bravery and the MG Griffiths Award for his heroic, lifesaving acts in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene in the fall of 2011.
While he acknowledges that it is nice to be recognized for his success, Robertson is adamant about the fact that individual titles and awards hold little bearing when his team faces off at center ice. In his words, "I don't have any personal goals for the season besides winning. That's all that matters to me and all that matters in our locker room. That mentality is going to be key to our success this year because it takes everyone on the ice to be on the same page and have the same goals to win in this league."
It is this single-minded focus that drives Robertson's performance as a captain and player. He spent the summer in Providence with a group of former and current team members, pushing himself to higher levels of physical conditioning and strength. They worked out in the newly renovated varsity weight room with strength coach Brett Crossland, put in time on the ice and extended their capabilities with boxing and yoga. Robertson is quick to recognize the importance of a team mentality and the motivation that he drew from being around others who had already achieved great levels of success or who sought the same things as he did. This summer he was surrounded by the past and present of Brown hockey, and, as he says, "any one of us is one good season away from playing in the NHL."
This close-knit group is another echo of the hockey culture that he grew up in, as the community in Fort St. John was small and supportive. One of Robertson's childhood idols, Scott Ford '04, captained the Bears and was named Best Defensive Defenseman by the ECAC, guarding the blue line in a style similar to that of his contemporary. He now runs the North Peace Alumni Hockey School in their hometown during the summer, and will captain the Peoria Rivermen, an AHL team, during the 2012-2013 season. In August, Robertson returned to serve as an assistant counselor at the camp that he attended during his youth hockey days, a testament to the success that Fort St. John inspires and the loyalty that motivates them to impart these lessons to a new generation of hockey players.
While not the most vocal captain, Robertson will continue to lead through his unflinching work ethic and dynamic physical play, traits that he has observed and valued for most of his life. As Coach White observes, "Dennis leads by example and sets the standard on what is expected to be a Brown hockey player."
The stakes might be high and the opponents fierce, but Robertson has grown up in battle on the ice and will never be anything less than all in.