THE JUNIOR HOCKEY JOURNAL

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                                                                OUT OF THE DARK
 
 
 
 
Growing up I was never a good hockey player. My first year in every level, I always played on the “B” team, which was usually a kind gesture by the coaches because they saw how badly I wanted to play rep hockey. My second year in every level put me in a spot where I could sneak on to the top rep teams. In Bantam, the pattern was the exact same. I had never heard of the WHL’s bantam draft until I reached my second year. I knew it was a longshot, as I saw myself buried on the third line with two players that eventually quit hockey all together the following year. Regardless, I wanted more ice time and more opportunity in the second half of the season. I was proactive, sat and talked with the coach and proved to him I could play. After a few months of putting up points and riding a successful season with the Richmond Blues, I was the first skater taken off my team, in the 7th round by the Portland Winterhawks. At the time, I thought it was the coolest thing in the world, but as you come up through the system, you realize that none of it matters.
 
Not long after being drafted and starting to feel like I had some sense of direction, my family fell apart. When my parents decided to divorce, everything changed. As a 15 year old kid, that's a lot to handle. I truly believe that hockey saved me from going down a dark path.
I made the jump up to the BC Major Midget League, thanks to my dad, who helped provide focus at a very difficult time. The schedule was intense with lots of travel and practices.  In addition, I had extra skating sessions during the week. With only one day off to see my friends and get my schoolwork done, the year went by in a blur. As that year came to a close, I thought that I was physically ready to take on a full time role in junior.
 
At 16 years old, I signed an agreement with the hometown Richmond Sockeyes. They knew I was heading to Portland in hopes of cracking the Winterhawks lineup, but they were my backup plan. I had a strong enough camp with Portland which prompted me to sign a WHL contract. However, they felt I needed more development and ice time back home with the Sockeyes. I returned home and had a blast playing Junior B. I learned how to win and I learned how to drink. By the end of the year, we were pretty good at both. I got into four games that year with the Hawks, playing a quality amount of ice time. Once I had a taste of what it was like to play in front of eleven thousand people, it was like an addictive drug and I wanted more.
 
I prepared for training camp to the best of my ability and actually became a pretty good hockey player. I was mentally ready and physically prepared to take on a full time role in the WHL at age 17.
 
Until I blew it all.
 
Monday, August 15 2011.
 
It was a warm summer night in my hometown of Steveston, BC. I was hanging out with my two best buddies at around 10 pm. The sun had just set and we decided to go to the 7/11 to grab something to eat. We left the store and debated plans for what was next. I declined their offer to go play video games because I had to be up early to train. They left and I went back in the store for a pack of gum. Big mistake.  By the time I exited the store, my friends were around the corner and gone.  As I walked down the street, a group of people approached me. Two individuals in the group were intoxicated and they weren’t fans of me or my perceived success in hockey. Words were exchanged, and before you know it, the fight was on. As I threw a punch, I landed on top of one them which caused my right knee to strike the pavement. When you’re in a fight, you enter survival mode. I didn’t feel any pain at the time, or process the fact I was getting jumped. As the sirens got louder and louder, the fight stopped and I ran home. I knew something wasn’t right.
 
I had eight days to try and figure out what the problem was, get my leg strong enough to play, and continue on. Hockey players ignore the pain; I never told anyone how painful it was to walk or skate. I had my mind made up of where I wanted to be and that was in the city of roses for my NHL draft year. It was embarrassing, but I had to tell the Winterhawks coaching staff what my current condition was, what had happened, and if I was alright to move forward. I battled through the pain and stepped on the ice for the training camp practice. I felt pretty good working through the drills.
 
I’ll never forget the one sequence where I drove the puck wide with speed on the defenseman. I didn’t have a lot of room and I crashed into the goalpost with my bad right knee. Then and there I knew it was over. I took off my shin pad and my knee was the size of a
watermelon. Within a few hours an x-ray indicated I had broken my right patella; surgery was scheduled for the next day, and a grinding three-month recovery was ahead. Everything I worked so hard for was now gone.
 
I returned home with a lot of healing to do. The injury wasn’t the hard part to get over; I knew my leg was eventually going to be fine. Mentally, I was a mess. I replayed the night of the incident over and over again; I had a lot of time to think about it. The one thing that I loved had been taken away from me temporarily. I quickly learned that feeling sorry for yourself is the worst emotion a human being can process.
 
Three full months later, I was healthy again and ready to go. The problem was that the Winterhawks made their team. They still owned my rights, which let them determine where it was best for me to spend the rest of my 17 year old season. In late November, I moved up to Merritt, BC in the BCHL. Or so I thought. I had signed an agreement with the team after my first game, went back home to get grab all my things, and moved up. My initial billet situation was a disaster. Inside the home, it looked like a bomb had gone off in every room. My dad and I took one look at each other and quickly determined this wouldn’t work. For the parents reading this, it’s scary to have your boy moved out of the house in their teen years. You need to trust that whoever is going to take care of your son, will be a good fit. It needs to be a caring home. The other problem was that the Centennials had no other available billets, so my dad and I drove back home and put my career on hold for a even longer.
 
Fortunately, a new billet family was found and my dad and I drove back up a week later. It was a great home where I had the opportunity to act as a big brother to two little boys, something I always wanted to do growing up. I got into a game with Portland that season, and personally finished with an average season in the BCHL. Playing that game with Portland gave me hope in that maybe I could still crack the roster as an 18 year old.
 
I came back home and graduated with my friends in the summer of 2012. Little did I know that the next five months would be the worst five months of my life.
 
I was training hard in the off-season, readying myself for whatever was coming next. Taylor Peters (a power forward for the Winterhawks at the time) and I had spent the last two summers in Portland helping out with the hockey school for kids. This was usually over a two-week phase. At the end of the week, I got called into Head Coach Mike Johnston’s’ office. I figured it was strange from the beginning because I hadn’t done anything wrong just yet. He informed me that the Winterhawks had taken me off their 50 man protected list, and I was a free agent, opening myself to the whole league. He actually invited me back to training camp, because he thought nobody was going to claim me.
 
Two hours later the phone rang. “Brayden Low?”
“Yes?” I replied confused.
“Welcome to the Seattle Thunderbirds.”
 
Just like that my mind switched over from loving the Winterhawks to hating them. I had all these unanswered questions in my head, but as you quickly learn, junior hockey is a business. I was looking forward to a fresh start with Seattle.
 
My dad and I made the drive down to Kent, WA on the day of training camp. I felt I was ready to go, now more than ever. I had to be.
Second chances don’t come around very often; I was one of the luckier guys that got another shot. As the first day of camp closed, I was supposed to report back with a billet family. The problem was nobody in the organization had a clue what was going on. After a few hours of confusion, I randomly jumped in the car with a few of the guys back to their billet house. That would turn out to be a vital mistake.
It didn’t take long for me to read the situation. The dad was the “chef”, and also a computer technician in Vegas all week long. The mother struggled in the kitchen. Mix that in with zero food in the house and you have a recipe for disaster. Looking back on it, yes, I should have taken more initiative to feed myself etc. However, as an 18 year old kid, in a brand new house, you by no means feel comfortable to raid a kitchen for food and make your own meals (not that there was any to make). This happened at the worst time possible because a training camp schedule is an absolute grind. I weighed in at 213lbs and in less than 48 hours I was down to 202lbs. I was completely drained. I was actually checked into a medical center to find out what was wrong. The doctors thought I had diabetes at one point because my blood sugar was so low. I brought this to the teams’ attention. I was moved out of there a day later. It took me a week or so to get my energy levels back where they needed to be, and by then it was too late. I only played half the exhibition games. I knew it was a matter of time. My heart wasn’t in Seattle and they didn’t see me in their future plans. Did I get a fair shot? No, probably not. In hindsight, could I have responded differently – maybe?  At the end of the day, that’s life and junior hockey can chew you up and spit you out. I was cut by The Seattle Thunderbirds.
 
For the second time in a row, I returned home without a plan. Where was I going next? I called my coach, Luke Pierce, practically begging for my job back with Merritt. They weren’t expecting me to come back and had filled the gap. He brought me up back up with the intention that if I did stay, I was there for good. No more leaving for the WHL. I wanted to stay there, but for what? I couldn’t go to the NCAA, and I needed my scholarship from the WHL as a safety net. I had a few long talks with him expressing my concerns, and a few weeks after I was traded to the Powell River Kings.
 
I’d heard of Powell River, but I’d never been there. It was a remote town; it took two ferries to get there from Vancouver, which made the trip about 7 hours long. It was a beautiful place, I was in a giant home right along the ocean, new puppy to play with, and the whole nine yards.
 
Despite all of this, I was depressed like you wouldn’t believe. I was drinking too much, which made things so worse once the alcohol wore off.  All in all - four teams in four months: four different cities, four new groups of guys, four new billet houses and four new arenas to get used to. I sat in my room countless nights saying to myself this was it, tomorrow you’ll quit and go back home. My parents had been quite involved; they knew I wasn’t mentally stable. My mom found me an agent. This guy thought the world of me and promised to have me out of Powell River in less than a month. I thought he was crazy, but it gave me some hope to stay somewhat focused on hockey.
 
Monday November 12 2012.
 
I was sitting on the couch playing NHL 13 when an unfamiliar phone number called and stole my attention. “Mr. Low?”  
“Hello?” I replied.
“Its Garry Davidson calling here from the Everett Silvertips.”
I had been in contact with Garry lots when I was fourteen years old; he was the guy who drafted me into the league when he was the Director of Player personnel for the Winterhawks. I think he said something along the lines of “Welcome back to the Evergreen State, we are expecting you here for tomorrow’s practice.” I grabbed all my suitcases and threw everything I had in the car in record time. I felt bad because it completely blindsided my billets and my teammates. I couldn’t say no to this. Third chances just don’t happen.
 
When I arrived in Everett the team was struggling. And no, they didn’t bring me in to save the season. I was simply a fill-the-gap type player. The team was riddled with injuries so some nights I played lots and some nights I hardly played. I was okay with it as I was finally in a place where I wanted to be, in the league I had been striving to play in since the minute I got drafted. The boys were unbelievable too. We weren’t very good on the ice, but we found ways to have fun off of it. We went through a coaching change in January, which saw Garry Davidson step in as head coach. I didn’t know at the time, but the man they were about to bring in for the upcoming season changed the way I saw the game, and made me a better hockey player.
 
The summer of 2013 was a good one. Legal age in Canada was fun with for a while. Having said that, things needed to change. The announcement came in from Everett that they had brought back in former bench boss Kevin Constantine. This helped me out in the sense that he loved the hard-nosed, physical, in your face, type players. I realized I wasn’t going to be a big time goal scorer at the next level; therefore I had to play to my strengths and use my body and power to my advantage. First, I had to harness and develop it. What really turned my development around was my off-season training regimen. I joined Jeff Tambellini’s Factory Hockey training. With the help of an experienced trainer in Ilan Cumberbirch, and skating and developing my game with some of the best players in the NHL, I now felt I was legitimately ready.
 
My hard work in summer paid off, I had an impressive training camp and a hot start with the Tips. Constantine had guided us to 4th in the country by mid-November. The injury bug bit us a little; saw our performance drop slightly, but still good enough to be tied for 4th heading into the playoffs. We drew Seattle and lost in five hard fought games, all but the last of which were decided by a goal. It was a year for me to remember, I learned a lot, and thoroughly enjoyed staying in one place.
 
Remember that agent I was talking about? Well apparently he had other plans for me at the end of the year. We had many extensive conversations about my future and within days after returning home, I was supposed to be on the move again. I got an email from a guy saying I was flying out of Vancouver on Tuesday to Chicago Illinois to sign an Amateur try out with the Rockford Icehogs. I was cautious but excited to find out more. The weekend had past and my agent had fallen off the face of the earth. No calls, no emails, no texts, and nothing about the itinerary.  A few days after we learned that my agent’s “name” (Andruw Bouegeois) was not his real name at all. He had scammed hundreds of kids/parents for money to have him as their representative. The last thing I heard was that he was charged and facing upwards of three dozen fraud accounts. Regardless, before you find an agent, make sure he has some sort of professional hockey credentials.
 
 
The feeling of going into your twenty-year-old-overage year is a feeling that you’ll only know once you arrive at it. I came into camp along with Zane Jones vying for the last roster spot in Everett. Jonesy and I became extremely close during the process. The fact that one of our days was numbered was often calmed by a few beers together every night. A few weeks later we learned our fate, I was to stay and he was off to Lethbridge, Alta. I was thrilled to be staying for my twenty-year-old year, as it would turn out to be by far the best year of my life. We learned as a team to win all year long, managing to hold first place in the US division through 72 games.  Not only did we find success on the ice, but the core group that had been together for three years collectively had fun off the ice. My teammates brought so much laughter and enjoyment to my life. The 5 is what made my time there even more special and I couldn’t believe that this is what I had missed out on for the the last four years. However, sometimes you have to grind it out, be patient and stay focused until the very end to get rewarded. For me, raising a US division banner was like the cherry on top of a great year.
 
What was about to happen next was crazy.
 
We drew Spokane in the first round of the playoffs, which personally I liked because I had success against them all year, and so did the team. We won the first game in a spirited fashion, four or five fights; it was playoff hockey to the fullest. I managed to score in the next three games. We won games three and four in Spokane, which set us up to win the first round at home. The team hadn’t made it past the first round in the last seven years, so the pressure was on. Game five was back and forth and a weird bounce saw us losing in overtime.
 
 We were forced to drive across the state for a game six in Spokane a few nights later.
 
My dad had been following our season closer than anyone in the world. He came out east, and only missed three or four home games. This playoff series was no different. He left our home in Steveston and made the eight-hour trip in for game six.
 
We knew it was going to be a close game coming into it, but we never imagined this close. We held a 1-0 lead for 59 minutes and 55 seconds. The puck came out in front from a point shot and found its way to a wide open player. 1-1. Overtime. We had every opportunity to finish the game in the first over time; however their goalie was playing sensational. The period came to an end and a quick turnaround brought us much of the same type of play in the second over time.  The catch was that if we were to lose, we’d have to drive six hours across the state and play them for a game seven roughly twenty hours later. The second overtime came to an end, and during the intermission that’s all we could think about. What if we lose? How are we going to have the energy to play tomorrow? I don’t think I’m going to survive! All these thoughts were bouncing back and forth through every guy’s head. As a twenty year old, it’s your job to keep them focused, be positive, and lead by example.
 
At 3:43 of the third overtime period, all those thoughts went away.
 
The puck got chipped in deep. As a left winger, I was on the left side and followed the play up. The defenseman arrantly reversed it to me along the goal line. I surprisingly didn’t press the panic button, and outwaited the goalie and slid it five-hole.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
After this, I think I blacked out for six seconds and woke up on my stomach at center ice. As I got up to a swarm of my teammates, I saw my dad standing at center ice about twenty rows back with his arms in the air.  4000 + people in that arena and I pick out the one guy in the crowd that had been with me since day one. That was by far the best hockey moment in my life.
The next round brought us, guess who? The Portland Winterhawks. Five more tough games, three or four of which we lost by a goal. We simply didn’t have enough gas in the tank.     
 
My junior career ended on April 21 2015.
 
The next few days were pretty rough, and it’s amazing how you can be in such a routine one day, and literally have no regiment the next. We had our exit meetings, then said bye to most of the boys and then back to the house to say bye to the billets. Darren and Janice Parsons, and their son Chris, truly made my last season a special one.
 
As all this concludes, you think about what you should have done, in the games and off the ice as a human being. I am so lucky I got to play where I ended up playing and meeting the people I met. I can’t thank the organizations that I’ve had the pleasure of playing for over the last five years enough. It’s been a crazy ride, but it goes to show you that if you set your mind on anything you can go out and achieve it. I could have easily thrown in the towel when I was in Powell River. I was in a very dark place mentally and I wasn’t treating my body the way I should have.  All it takes is the right mindset. It’s the determination, hard work, the will to keep fighting, and the point of proving people wrong that got me to where I wanted to be.   
 
For the twenty year olds that end up reading this, please take your time in making your next decision. Life out of junior hockey is so different than what you’re used to. You’ll understand once you’re out.
 
But while you’re in, enjoy every second of it.
 
 
Brayden Low
Contributor/Founder
THE JUNIOR HOCKEY JOURNAL