For potential professional athletes, the dedication involved takes day and night. But only a select few decide to pursue their dream of playing professional hockey in conjunction with acquiring an education.
Chad Brownlee is one of those few who have opted for the road less traveled, and he is one of twenty prospects at the Canucks’ Prospects Development Camp hoping to impress the team’s brass with what he’s got. Brownlee, who will turn 23 this month, was born in Kelowna, and has spent the past four seasons playing defense for Minnesota State University in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA).
Prior to joining MSU, Brownlee had two successful seasons playing for the Vernon Vipers in the BCHL, including the 2002-03 season where the Vipers were BCHL Fred Page Cup Champions. That same season he was named the Viper’s Top Defenseman and also won the Coaches Choice Award.HOMETOWN BOY
Selected by the Canucks in the sixth round (190th overall) at the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, the opportunity of being drafted by the team he grew up idolizing has been a dream come-true for this self-described defensive defenseman.
“I’ve been a huge fan since I was six,” Brownlee said during a break from the rigorous training regiment at development camp earlier this month. “Being drafted by Vancouver was definitely a feather in the cap. But really, being drafted is just one phase. You have to take it one step further to actually make something of it. Right now, it’s a transition period for me, so I’m just trying to continue moving forward.”
Brownlee is one of a handful of NCAA prospects currently in the Canucks system; joining the likes of Cory Schneider
, Matt Butcher, and Mason Raymond
. The demand of being a student-athlete is just one of the obstacles on the route Brownlee has taken to become a professional hockey player. However, concurrently pursuing a degree and hockey career is a decision Brownlee is happy he made.
“I’m really glad I decided to get my degree while playing hockey,” Brownlee said. “Ever since I was younger, my parents instilled in me that education was incredibly important. It’s kind of nice that I have a degree in my back pocket right now. It’s good to have something to fall back on.”
Brownlee’s passion for his education could be attributed to his decision to pursue a major that he was truly interested in. “My degree is in Psychology, and I loved it,” he enthusiastically recounted. “If I wasn’t playing hockey I would want to get into Sports Psychology. For years I’ve been interested in the psychological aspect of sports, and just life in general. It’s kind of nice that I was in classes that I enjoyed, because it made the long hours worth it.”
After playing for Vernon in the BCHL, and Minnesota State in the NCAA, Brownlee has had the opportunity to become accustomed to two very different leagues and types of play. “They’re definitely different styles. Junior A is more like the pro style, just in the way they format the league and whatnot. It’s very fast in the WCHA. Guys are older obviously, and more physically developed. It’s also less of a grind [in the WCHA], because you’re only playing Friday and Saturday night, but those games are pretty intense. Guy’s aren’t saving themselves for anything – they’re letting it all out on the ice.”PRESSURES OF A PROSPECT
With the different varieties of play, the added pressures of a post-secondary education, and the larger opponents to contend with, Brownlee notes that the route he has taken might not be right for all potential NHLers.
“The first year I really got a feel for things, and there was a lot of trial and error,” the 6’2” B.C.-boy reveals. “You learn the ropes playing hockey and going to university at the same time. You have to fit in practice, games, and training, with when to study. Plus you have to find time to sleep and eat too.”
Already being drafted, and recently graduating this year, the pressure for someone in Brownlee’s shoes could be incredibly overwhelming. However, with the eloquence and scholarly-like air similar to that of his professed favourite player, Trevor Linden, Brownlee looks at the positive aspects of his current situation.
“There is definitely pressure on me right now, but I think even a little pressure can be a good thing. It kind of elevates your commitment levels and makes you evaluate what you really want. I’m really excited for this transition period and moving onto something new. I spent my four years in Minnesota, got what I needed, and I feel it’s time to move on.”
Brownlee’s focus and analytical nature has impressed many of the scouts and trainers at this month’s development camp, and he has applied this concentration towards the rigorous demands of training for a professional hockey team.
“There are a lot of physical aspects – from workouts to testing. On Monday we did the V02 and Wingate testing [aerobic and anaerobic tests that measure oxygen consumption rates, and peak anaerobic capacity rates respectively]. The tests went well, but they are never easy. It’s nice now they’re all done, so we can reflect and then move on to some other workouts.”
Brownlee is now looking towards what the rest of his summer holds. “It’s been great to be here, and has been an amazing opportunity,” he said. “For the rest of the summer I’m just going to train and work on some things. Then I’ll have to wait until contract talks in August. That stuff is kind of out of my control right now, so I just have to do what I can do here, and hopefully help them make the best decision for everyone."