When Brennan Yadlowski joined the Everett Silvertips back in 2010, he had dreams of someday playing in the National Hockey League.
Now, nearly five years after leaving junior hockey, Yadlowski still has the same NHL dream. His quest, though, has resulted in a slight side trip, albeit one with many benefits.
The 25-year-old Yadlowski, a Silvertips defenseman in 2010-11 and 2011-12, is completing his fifth season at the University of Alberta, which has one of the premier programs in Canadian collegiate hockey. Not only that, Yadlowski’s entire college education — tuition, books and fees — has been paid for by the Western Hockey League’s scholarship program, which provides a year of college, trade school or professional career training for every WHL season played.
Because Yadlowski played three seasons for Lethbridge before being traded to Everett, the scholarship program gave him five expenses-paid years of college, which he has used to pursue a degree in finance. He expects to graduate from the Edmonton school in June and then take a stab at pro hockey — “The dream is definitely still alive,” he said — but he is also interested in a career in commercial or investment banking either after hockey or if his pro bid is unsuccessful.
Playing college hockey in Canada “helps you grow as a person and as a player, and you come out with a degree,” Yadlowski said. “So I believe this route is really a strong way to go. … I’m very grateful for the chance to play in Everett, but I’m also definitely very happy that I went this route and that I’ll be able to get a degree.”
Yadlowski is one of 17 former Silvertips taking advantage of the league’s scholarship program in the 2016-17 fall semester. The semester total for the entire WHL is 355, with 202 playing Canadian collegiate hockey. (Former WHL players no longer have NCAA eligibility in the United States, but they do have college eligibility in Canada).
Among other ex-Silvertips playing college hockey this season are Carson Stadnyk at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon and Cole MacDonald at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia. They were Everett teammates in 2015-16, and each is in his first season of collegiate hockey.
Stadnyk, a 21-year-old forward, says he “100 percent” wants to play in the NHL someday, but likes the idea of developing as a hockey player while studying for a business degree. “You never really give up trying to go pro,” he explained. “But you can go the school route and get your degree, and afterward if you want to go pro, that option might still be available to you.”
“The dream of going to the NHL never goes away,” agreed MacDonald, a 21-year-old defenseman who chose the East Coast because both his parents are from Nova Scotia and the family took summer vacations there when he was a boy. “I’d like to get a degree and maybe go pro after that, but if not, I’ll still have a degree in my back pocket and that should take me someplace as well.
“If I have the chance to play pro after college, I’d 100 percent do that,” he said. “But if not, I guess I’ll have to join the real world and find a job.”
Canadian collegiate hockey is considered a notch above junior hockey, largely because most schools have rosters filled with former junior players. As Stadnyk pointed out, “You’re playing against men basically. The youngest guy is 21, compared to the youngest guy coming into the (WHL) being 16. Everyone is bigger, faster and stronger in this league.”
Still, these former Silvertips miss many things about their junior days in Everett. In particular, they always enjoyed the boisterous fans at Xfinity Arena.
“The Everett fans were crazy, that’s for sure,” MacDonald said. “And it’s a lot different playing in front of 500 people instead of 6,000, so that’s one thing I really miss. The other thing is that you go to the rink every day and that’s your only worry. That’s your job and when you’re done you go home and relax. Here you have to focus on school as well, and that can be really tough.”
But even during the hard times, there is always the dream to offer encouragement and hope. As evidence of the possibilities, Yadlowski mentions Derek Ryan, a Spokane native who played four WHL seasons for the hometown Chiefs and then four seasons at Alberta, wrapping up in 2010-11. Ryan then played three pro seasons in Austria, another season in Sweden, and part of the 2015-16 season in the American Hockey League before being called up to the NHL’s Carolina Hurricane. Ryan is again with Carolina this season.
“(Ryan) sort of paved the way for the guys that are still here playing in Canadian universities,” Yadlowski said. And for all those players, he added, “that dream (of getting to the NHL) will always be there.”