Blay: Canucks draft pick enjoying post-hockey career in country music

2003 Vancouver Canucks draft pick Chad Brownlee (middle) plays with his band in northern Alberta this past summer. Brownlee, who played NCAA hockey in addition to one season in the ECHL, is now enjoying a successful career in country music. (Jeff Blay/CM)

If you grew up in a hockey locker room, you’re likely aware of the fact country music is bar-none one of the most popular genres played on the boombox.

For whatever reason, hockey players (for the most part) have embraced the “twang” so much so that it’s almost become a part of the culture.

A living example of that is former professional hockey player and current award-winning Canadian country musician, Chad Brownlee, who after dedicating the majority of his life to the sport, hung up the skates, put down his hockey stick, and picked up a six-string guitar.

Speaking to from Winnipeg during his last tour stop opening for American country phenomenon, Dierks Bentley, Brownlee was asked if it was a goal of his to one day play live at the NHL Awards – something Bentley had the privilege of doing in 2011.

“You never know,” he laughed. “There are a lot of hockey guys out there that love their country music and it’s kind of cool how two worlds definitely do collide, so I don’t think my time in hockey is done yet.”

Since deciding to end his career in hockey after playing one season with the East Coast Hockey League’s Idaho Steelheads in 2007-08, Brownlee has managed to self-fund a demo, sign a record deal with MDM Recordings (after which he released a self-titled debut album) in addition to recently releasing his sophomore record, Love Me or Leave Me on February 14.

“The album we’re all very proud of,” he said. “We put a lot of work into it and I feel it’s definitely a step in the right direction for me as an artist and a songwriter.”

In such a short time as a musician, Brownlee has been humbled by the fan response that helped earn him a spot on the Dierks Bentley tour – an artist Brownlee has been following since his days in hockey.

“It’s been absolutely phenomenal,” Brownlee said of the tour. “From our first show in Vancouver to our last show here in Winnipeg, the fans have been great and everybody’s been getting on their feet and singing along, so the reception has actually been more than I expected – I’m just sad it’s almost over.”

A native of Kelowna, B.C., Brownlee began his hockey career with the British Columbia Hockey League’s (BCHL) Vernon Vipers and was drafted by his hometown Vancouver Canucks in the sixth round of the 2003 NHL Draft. From there, Brownlee played for the NCAA’s Minnesota State Mavericks, where he spent four years prior to his professional debut with Idaho.

It was after playing a season in the ECHL that Brownlee began to question his future and eventually started working towards a career in music.

“It wasn’t an easy transition,” he admitted. “I was playing the sport since I was five-years-old; it was my identity, who I was and what everybody identified me as, so it took a good year before I finally became comfortable as a musician.

“I just did everything I possibly could to get a start in music and finally I met the right people and one of them is my manager now, so I’ve just been fortunate to have been in the right place at the right time and luckily people have enjoyed my music.”

Although his hockey career is now behind him, looking back, Brownlee appreciates his time in hockey and still takes pride in his career.

“I’ve had so many positive experiences through hockey… It’s taught me a lot of good life skills and I definitely wouldn’t be where I am in music today if it wasn’t for my time in hockey,” he said, adding that he still closely follows the team that drafted him. “Vancouver has been my favourite team since I can remember and to be drafted by them was obviously a feather in the cap.

“I didn’t get to play a season with them, but it’s a good story now that I can tell my grandkids.”

With music now Brownlee’s main focus, it’s been much harder to make time in his schedule for hockey, although he would never turn down an invite to lace ‘em up.

“Getting out on the ice isn’t as prevalent as it was before – I’m on the road a lot and pretty busy with music, but I brought my gear on this tour and had the opportunity to skate with the (Western Hockey League’s) Kamloops Blazers,” Brownlee said. “They were nice enough to let me go practice with them one day when we had a show there, so I get on when I can.

“I really do enjoy the sport for what it is, so I think I actually enjoy it more now than I ever have.”

(Editor’s Note: Brownlee’s song writing skills were first acknowledged in his fourth year at Minnesota State University when he was nominated for the NCAA Hockey Humanitarian award for his song “The Hero I See.” The song, written in memory of a boy who lost his battle with leukemia, raised thousands of dollars for the Anthony Ford Foundation, which helps underprivileged kids play hockey.)

– Jeff Blay, Executive Editor


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