On June 21, 2003, there’s nowhere Chad Brownlee wanted to be more than Nashville, Tennessee.
That day the home of the Predators was the focus of the hockey world with the 2003 NHL Entry Draft taking place at the Gaylord Entertainment Center.
Brownlee, then a 19-year-old defenceman hailing from Kelowna, BC, had always envisioned hearing his name called by the Vancouver Canucks and becoming part of the organization.
Brownlee drew interest from not only the Canucks going into the draft, but also the New York Rangers, Los Angeles Kings and New Jersey Devils. As luck would have it, Vancouver selected the 6-foot-2, 200-pound Vernon Viper with its sixth choice, the 190th overall pick that year.
The stars had aligned and Brownlee was a Canuck.
“It was a definite feather in my cap to be drafted by my hometown team,” said Brownlee, who will make his first appearance at GM Place on Thursday, although in a different capacity than you’d expect.
A budding Canucks prospect, Brownlee then spent four years sharpening his mind and skills at Minnesota State University before finally donning a Canucks jersey and attending his first prospects camp. He performed well enough to earn an invitation to main camp where the overwhelmed blueliner pinched himself quite a few times.
“I was trying not to be star struck because all of the sudden there was Trevor Linden, the guy I’d idolized since I was a kid. I had to remember to be a hockey player and not a fan, which was a first.”
It was a first and a last for Brownlee. After being released from camp, he spent one season with the ECHL’s Idaho Steelheads. He played 35 games and had a goal and two assists along the way, before a lingering shoulder injury brought his career into question.
While at Minnesota State Brownlee had surgery on both his shoulders leaving him a shell of his former self. Having to go through the pain of a shoulder injury again in Idaho proved to be too much for the then 23-year-old.
He was Superman without his cape making it awfully tough to fly.
“I wasn’t really a finesse goal-scoring type player, you can look at my stats, so I needed to be physical and tough in front of the net and in the corners and I just didn’t have the strength I used to have because of these injuries,” said Brownlee.
“That really took the wind out of my sails and I made the decision after my first year that it was now or never and that while I was still young, it was time to pursue something else.”
That something else was a hobby Brownlee started at the age of 17 when he got his first guitar. He taught himself to play and that led to singing and songwriting, which all took a back seat to hockey, but quickly leapfrogged it as his true passion.
Now a full-time country music singer working on his debut album, due out in spring 2010, Brownlee, 25, will sing the Canadian and American national anthems prior to puck drop between the Canucks and Atlanta Thrashers on December 10.
“I’ve done a few others, but this one is by far the one I am most excited about, just to be on that ice at GM Place,” said Brownlee, who has performed at BC Lions games, for the Vancouver Whitecaps and at Minnesota State University.
“It’s always been a dream of mine to be on the ice during a game and technically this counts, I just won’t be in skates - but hey, I’ll take it.”
Brownlee recently watched an NHL game live for the first time since stepping away from hockey and he admitted that it brought back a lot from his past. Still, he has yet to second-guess his decision of packing it in, especially since he’s using some of what he learned from hockey in the country music business.
“It stings a little because it’s part of who you are and then to just quit cold turkey, it’s kind of a major shift. Any time I watched a game on TV I’d see my buddies playing and it hurt a little bit, it always hits pretty close to home. It brings up a lot of memories and emotions so obviously it’ll always be a big part of my life.
“Hockey really helped with the mental side of things. Like when you’re called upon to do a job in hockey, you have a role to play and the coach sends you out on the ice on the power play or penalty kill and you’re expected to perform that role. It’s the same thing in music, when you get on that stage, you’re expected to perform and you have to do it to the best of your ability.
“Hockey has prepared me in a lot more ways than one for this, which is pretty cool, but I still have a ton to learn about how the music business works.”
More than six years after dreaming of being in Nashville, Brownlee still has his sights set on Tennessee, only now it’s because Nashville is the home of country music.