EVERETT — There are many different paths to a career in major-junior hockey.
There’s the touted high-end bantam draft picks who go on to stardom in the WHL.
There’s the high draft picks who never achieve the success predicted from their bantam years.
There’s the unheralded types who arrive with little fanfare, but go on to become significant contributors or even stars.
And then there’s Brayden Low, who’s journey to a major-junior career contains elements of all those.
It’s been a long and bumpy road for the Everett Silvertips forward, but the arduous journey has made Low all the more appreciative of finally finding a place he belongs.
“I’ve found a home down here,” Low said. “It’s definitely been a long path to become a WHL regular, and I’m pretty thankful for the second opportunity to start my hockey career.”
Low, a 19-year-old from Richmond, B.C., isn’t the type who garners headlines for his offensive flair. He’s a role player who’s specialty is grinding and killing penalties. This season he has a modest four goals and 11 assists in 51 games.
But given the obstacles that were put in Low’s way to reaching this point, he’s perfectly happy to have found a role.
“Brayden plays the game for the right reasons,” Everett general manager Garry Davidson said. “I think he really enjoys playing the game. He’s continued to work hard and persevere at his game. I’ll be perfectly frank, I’m surprised he’s still here. In training camp, I thought he was one of those guys who would come up short. But I give him full marks. He worked hard in the offseason, he’s come here and worked exceptionally hard every single day. He’s carved out a little niche for himself here in Everett.”
Just how roundabout was Low’s journey to Everett? During the course of two-plus seasons, Low was a part of six different organizations at three different junior levels: the Richmond Sockeyes of the junior B Pacific Junior Hockey League; the Merritt Centennials and Powell River Kings of the junior A British Columbia Hockey League; and the Portland Winterhawks, Seattle Thunderbirds and Everett of the WHL. Before coming to Everett in November of 2012, he never spent more than 47 games with any of those teams.
It all began so innocently as Low was selected by Portland in the seventh round of the 2009 bantam draft. He spent his 15-year-old season playing in the B.C. Major Midget League, his 16-year-old season at the junior B level with Richmond, then was told he had a place with the Winterhawks as a 17-year-old.
But a week before training camp began Low was involved in an off-ice altercation that left him with a knee injury that derailed his attempts to make Portland’s team.
“I went to Seven-Eleven with a couple friends about 10 at night,” Low recalled. “They went back to my buddy’s house and I went back into the store. I saw a couple characters who weren’t too big a fans of me, they were a little intoxicated, one thing led to another and all of a sudden I was in a fistfight. I went down on the pavement on my right knee, and I didn’t really know how bad it was.”
Low tried to play through the injury, but during camp he collided with a goalpost, causing his knee to swell. X-rays revealed a broken patella, requiring surgery, and his chances of making the Winterhawks were gone.
After recovering, Low spent the season playing junior A for Merritt, appearing in a game with Portland as a call-up, and he was expecting to make the Winterhawks the following season. However, while helping at an offseason camp in Portland, he was informed he’d been released by the Winterhawks. His rights were immediately snapped up by Seattle, and he was slated to play for the Thunderbirds.
But everything went wrong in training camp with Seattle as he ran into dietary issues.
“I weighed in at 213 (pounds) and (was) ready to go,” Low said. “The billet situation was a disaster from the start. I went into the billet house with a couple other guys, and the woman couldn’t boil water and the dad was a computer technician in Las Vegas, so he was gone all week.
“Being in a new house you don’t want to raid their house for food. My weight dropped in three days from 213 to 202. I was checked into the hospital and they thought I had diabetes at one point because my blood sugar dropped so low. It was definitely a scary experience. Next thing you know, I’m only playing half the exhibition games.”
Low was cut by Seattle and planned to head back to Merritt. But there was a problem. The Centennials weren’t planning on Low being back, so there was no roster spot for him. After three games, he was traded to Powell River, his fifth junior organization in little more than a year. That’s when Low hit rock bottom, questioning whether he should continue his hockey career.
“At that point I didn’t really know where I was in life,” Low said. “I hadn’t even really heard of Powell River before. I wasn’t in a good state of mind, and I probably got into some things I shouldn’t have, maybe a little too much partying and not focused on what I had to do. But I finally got settled in and tried to straighten things out with my life and hockey.”
That’s when fate intervened on Low’s behalf. Everett was in the midst of an injury crisis that left the Tips desperately short of forwards. The team was on the forward-of-the-week program, with obscure names like Brandon Bruce and Kyle Raymond called in to temporarily fill holes in Everett’s lineup.
Davidson was familiar with Low, having been Portland’s director of player personnel when the Winterhawks drafted Low in 2009. Low was available, so Davidson brought him in to serve as another stopgap.
“He was a patch at the time,” Davidson said, “but you’re always hoping these players will come in and grow and develop and become a bigger part of it.”
Low ended up being more than just a patch. Though he was in and out of the lineup primarily as a fourth liner, Low lasted the remainder of the season with the Tips. Then an intense offseason of training brought Low back to Everett in fantastic shape, and he earned himself another season with the team.
“It’s been nothing short of a blessing here in Everett,” Low said. “It’s given me so much and I’m so thankful for the opportunity. I wake up happy every day and look forward to coming to the rink and developing into a better hockey player. And they believed in me. They could have shipped me off somewhere else and I would have started the whole journey again. But at least for now I know where I’m going to be playing.”
Everett continues to have five forwards who are listed on the injury report. Manraj Hayer (lower body) and Jujhar Khaira (upper body) are listed as day to day, while Zane Jones (upper body), Logan Aasman (finger) and Tyler Sandhu (upper body) are listed as week to week. Khaira and Aasman are the likeliest to return at some point this weekend. … Everett’s opponent tonight, Portland, is on a tear. The Winterhawks have won 10 straight, and in the past eight of those Portland has outscored its opponents 46-8. Three of those victories were against the Tips.
Check out Nick Patterson’s Silvertips blog at http://www.heraldnet.com/silvertipsblog, and follow him on Twitter at NickHPatterson.