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The soul of Canucks minor hockey

...for more than 20 years, Rod Brathwaite has been running the show for Canucks minor hockey programs

by Derek Jory @NoJoryous / Contract writer

If Rod Brathwaite had kept his eyes on the prize, he believes his chances of becoming an NHL goalie were good. His younger brother Fredrick defied the odds with his short stature and cat like reflexes to make it as a NHL puck stopper, retiring with 254 games played between four teams from 1993 to 2004.

What a family goaltending tandem they could have been.

Brathwaite doesn't look back with remorse, however. His inability to stay focused and on track with sports led to an unexpected career helping thousands of others stay focused and on track with sports - including his brother.

For the past 15 years, Brathwaite has been the Manager of Community Partnerships & Hockey Development for the Vancouver Canucks; he's also spent the past 12 years concurrently working as the Canucks Alumni Liaison.

Brathwaite is not one for the spotlight. He's a quiet person with an extremely cool, old school demeanour. If anger is in his repertoire, it's buried deep underneath kindness, understanding and storytelling. Roddy loves to tell stories. With the NHL celebrating Black History Month throughout February, it's finally time to tell his story and celebrate Brathwaite's numerous contributions to hockey in Vancouver and all over British Columbia.

Back in the day (as Brathwaite would say) his parents Verstine and St.Clair, both born and raised in Barbados, had an opportunity to move to Canada for a new world experience. They left the Caribbean island in their early 20s and started a new life in Ottawa, Ontario. In 1966, Rod was born. Fredrick completed the family six years later.

Like most Canadian kids then and now, Brathwaite lived and breathed hockey. From sunup to sundown it was a mix of driveway shinny, basement mini sticks, hockey battles at school, and rink hopping in search of the best sheets of ice - everything revolved around hockey. The Brathwaite family lived in an Ottawa suburb, in a semi-detached home, beside the Entwistle family. Their home was plastered with minor hockey photos of the four Entwistle kids, including Phil, a goalie who invited Rod to one of his games.

Although Brathwaite already loved hockey, he now had a dream: become an NHL goalie.

His dad, a former cricket player, emphasized learning how to skate and took Rod to hockey schools and camps. As the years passed, Rod's skills grew in leaps and bounds. Then life got in the way.

"I lost focus," said Brathwaite, reminiscing. "It was probably there for me if I would have stayed at it, but I got a little sidetracked…I had lots of different opportunities, but I just lost focus. Then I didn't know what I was going to do."

Upon the advice of a friend who lived in Vancouver, Brathwaite headed to Canada's West Coast for the first time and fell in love with everything it had to offer. There was no going back; Brathwaite began working odd jobs, including some time in the film industry, taking days off from his new job as a Fido sales consultant to attend the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship in Saint Petersburg, Russia, in the spring of 2000. Fredrick played backup to José Théodore, helping Canada to a fourth-place finish in the tournament. While in Russia, Rod met Brad Pascall, Hockey Canada's Senior Director for the Men's National Teams & Communications, who is now the assistant GM of the Calgary Flames.

Brathwaite said he'd love to work in hockey but wasn't sure how to go about that. Pascall told him that working at Fido wasn't getting him any closer to his goal; he told Brathwaite to visit Rob Patterson, the Manager of BC Centre of Excellence for Hockey Canada, who worked out of Rogers Arena (GM Place at the time).

Brathwaite started volunteering at the BC Centre of Excellence and was hired before he knew it.

"That office was a regional branch for Hockey Canada, so we travelled throughout the province and did Nike skills camps for kids between the ages of 8 and 12. I also started working for the Canucks, helping with their mini minor hockey program. That went on for years and years, then Hockey Canada changed things up and closed that Vancouver office. Debbie Butt, who was Director of Community Partnerships for the Canucks, offered me the chance to be a Canucks employee and run the minor hockey programs."

Brathwaite has now been in Rogers Arena, in one role or another, for more than 20 years, having touched the lives of countless kids, parents and coaches along the way. It's difficult to imagine Canucks youth programs like Mini Minor, Every Kid's Dream, Junior Trainer, First Strides, among others, without Brathwaite at the helm. This begs the question of where Brathwaite would be without the life changing conversation he had with Pascall in Russia.

"Selling the newest models of Fido phones, I guess," laughed Brathwaite. "I don't know. It's hard to say. I did work in the film business, so maybe I could have got back into that. Good question."

Not knowing what career path to take is what drew Brathwaite into also working with the Canucks Alumni Association, an organization made up of former Canucks & NHL coaches and staff, plus those who support the game of hockey in British Columbia.

In 2008 Brathwaite took over alumni duties from Norm Jewison, who ran the program for 23 years and was a staple with the Canucks for 30 years. At the time, Fredrick Brathwaite had wrapped up his NHL career and was playing out the end of his hockey career with the Mannheim Eagles in the Deutsche Eishockey Liga, a pro league in Germany. Fredrick wasn't sure what life after hockey held for him; using his brother as inspiration, Rod saw an opportunity to help Canucks retirees in the same position.

Since then, Brathwaite's career has been dedicated to working with hockey's future on one end, and players at the end of their hockey careers on the other. He's damn proud of what he's accomplished, and he should be.

"Even back at the beginning with Rob Patterson, we weren't there to make Wayne Gretzkys or Bobby Orrs or Connor McDavids, we were trying to make kids good athletes and at the same time, good people," explained Brathwaite. "I helped a lot of kids and a lot of coaches and a lot of parents, and I hopefully made an impact. If it was on 10 people, even if it was on one, I feel I've done what needed to be done. I think I did a great job at it and made a memorable impression on a lot of kids, coaches and parents."

Brathwaite is especially proud to have made it in hockey as a Black male. The sport is traditionally dominated by white players, coaches and staff.

"I'm proud of being a Black person in the game and proud to be in the NHL. There's maybe been four or five Black people in 15 years working in the building, so I'm proud of getting the honour to run the minor hockey program for such a prestigious team like the Canucks, especially knowing what hockey of all forms means to the people of BC. To have the Canucks logo on my jacket and represent the organization nationwide, and to know I was running the show so to speak, I'm proud of that.

"There's probably many rinks I walked into in this position, where people looked at me and although they didn't say anything, you can tell they're questioning if I should be playing basketball or running track and field. There were undertones of racism, but it was very low."

Just like in the beginning of his second hockey career 20-years ago, Brathwaite is still travelling throughout the lower mainland and the province spearheading the NHL/NHLPA First Shift program, working with a number of alumni and minor hockey coaches providing instruction and new equipment to kids trying hockey for the first time.

The learning and teaching never ends.

"I've loved working in hockey, and I love to see kids, all kids of every colour, come up and get a chance to play the game and grow to enjoy it."

There's always more that could be said about Brathwaite, but in true Roddy fashion he wanted to ensure that the story about him ended with thanks given to everyone who helped him along the way.

"There's too many people to count! I'd like to thank Brad Pascall, Rob Patterson, Debbie Butt, Dave Nonis, Norm Jewison, Chris Brumwell, Alex Oxenham, and the many Vancouver Canucks players, coaches and staff members who have supported the many programs over the years.

"And of course, I have so much love and appreciation for Fredrick and mom and dad. Hockey is expensive now and it was just as expensive then, on a different scale, but coming home and saying I wanted to play hockey, I'm sure they couldn't afford it, but they still gave me the opportunity and then gave it to Fredrick as well. Thank you."

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