Getting drafted by a WHL team is at the forefront of thousands of youth hockey players across the Western United States and Canada. But as many players from big, highly populated hockey crazed cities will tell you, the luster starts to wear off as more and more kids get plucked by WHL teams. This is not the case for Elijah Brown, a center that was selected by the Seattle Thunderbirds in the first round of the 2015 Bantam Draft. Brown calls Cold Lake, Alberta his home and spends his summers there. For him and his extensive family, the moment Brown got drafted was cause for celebration.
“I know [for] some players it’s not such a big deal, they grew up in Edmonton around their buddies always getting drafted or their brothers maybe,” Brown explained. “But coming from Cold Lake – it’s been a long time since a kid got drafted from Cold Lake – my family came over, we were watching it live. They said my name and we all jumped around and freaked out because it’s Seattle. I was very happy; I had a meeting with them that year. I didn’t want to go anywhere else but Seattle honestly. It was a dream come true.”
Not only does the Seattle area play home to Brown’s new hockey team, but also his favorite football team. Being the son of a British Columbia resident and die-hard Seattle Seahawks fan caused Brown and his four brothers to become 12s.
“My dad has been a Seahawks fan for life,” Brown acknowledged. “That was another perk of getting drafted by Seattle. My dad was from Kamloops so they’re the closest [NFL] team, and then he just passed it down to my brothers and I. We love the Seahawks.”
Brown hopes that Seattle sports fans will soon grow to love him back. While he was not on the roster during the T-Birds 2016 run to the WHL Championship, he was able to get into two games during the regular season before fervently following along online as the team soared deep into the playoffs.
“Every [playoff] game I’d have my phone open and I’d refresh it probably every 10 minutes,” Brown said. “I was there for the first series against PG [Prince George Cougars]. They went for a good run there. It’s a big deal.”
Brown also opened up about the two games in which he donned a T-Birds sweater for the first time. On March 19, 2016 the young center made his WHL debut in a game at ShoWare Center against the Portland Winterhawks. After being the subject of playful chiding that so many rookies have to endure, Brown settled in nicely, and even deposited a puck in the net during his next game.
“At first I was a little nervous,” Brown admitted. “I got comfortable after a couple days. Then I played my first game at the ShoWare Center against Portland with a sold out crowd. My nerves were going. I had a -1 but it was great just to get that first game in. I got rookie’d. I got to skate by myself on the ice for a good 30 seconds there and I remember the crowd was going pretty crazy. It was exciting. But I went to Portland the next day, in the second period I got an assist. I was pretty excited about that. With about a minute left Barzal passed it out front to me and I got my first goal which was something I’ll never forget. I give thanks to the team and the coaches. They made me feel part of the team.”
Brown says that being part of the team is the main goal that he has set for himself this upcoming season. While appearing in those two contests against Portland toward the end of the season provided an exhilarating experience, it was very short lived. Becoming a mainstay on the roster is something that Brown has his sights set on.
“I got to work my butt off at camp to hit that high level where all the other players are at,” Brown declared. “Maybe I’ll get on one of the top lines and we’ll go from there. I want to be a Thunderbird.”
As with any young player looking to elevate their game, Brown takes bits and pieces of inspiration from guys playing on the sport’s highest level. Currently listed at a slight 5’9” and 150 lbs, Brown lists one of the NHL’s most dynamic, exciting – albeit smaller – players as one of his muses.
“Johnny Gaudreau, he’s small like me, hopefully I can grow a little bit, but he plays hard and he shoots the puck,” Brown observed. “He’s one of the most skilled players in the NHL and I love to watch him play.
Brown also gave a nod to a guy who just lifted his first Stanley Cup despite of the seemingly endless criticisms about his constantly fluctuating weight.
“A player I like to watch – because he’s one of my favorite players – is Phil Kessel,” Brown revealed. “People give him a hard time but I love how he plays. He plays fast and he can shoot.”
Hearing Brown gush about players who possess both speed and scoring ability should make T-Birds fans happy. Any hockey team on earth could surely use more guys who can find the back of the net. With the early season departures of Mathew Barzal and Keegan Kolesar to NHL Training Camps, Brown could be a welcome addition at ShoWare Center early in the season. If you believe in the optimistic vibes rising out of Seahawks training camp, he may even be here to witness his favorite football team take home another Lombardi Trophy.