From the Kootenays to Wellington, Ont. and finally finding a home in Campbell River come mid October.
It was hardly a standard hockey season for Vernon’s Nathan Browne, but one which had a surprising happy ending.
Browne, who turned 20 in February, boosted the Campbell River Storm to the Cyclone Taylor (B.C.) and Keystone Cup (Western Canada) championships.
“It was a bit of a whirlwind,” said the soft-spoken d-man. “If you told me at the start of the season, I would have won a Keystone Cup, I probably would have laughed in your face. We had such a special group and to win it in my final season is awesome. I’m very thankful for that.”
Browne, a 6-foot-1, 178-pounder, compiled three goals and 10 points in 37 games the year before with the BCHL Trail Smoke Eaters. After being released by the Smokies, he signed with the Junior A Wellington Dukes.
With Wellington struggling and the Storm off to a 10-0 start, Browne and Storm assistant coach Curt Toneff – a former Smokie – discussed making a move to Vancouver Island.
Browne said his love of competition and playing with guys who become good friends kept him from hanging the blades up after being cut by Trail.
“We had a pretty good idea he would come in and be one of the best defencemen on our team and in the league, and that’s what he did,” said Storm head coach/GM Lee Stone, at 26, the youngest head coach in the Vancouver Island Junior League.
“He’s so smooth. He makes it look so easy; he’s so calm and steady. Sometimes you wish he’d get pissed off or fired up, but he didn’t take a bad penalty all year so that’s pretty impressive.”
Browne rang up eight goals and 26 points in 39 games with Campbell River, A left shot who wore #44 with the Storm, he patterns himself after the likes of Duncan Keith, Drew Doughty and Oliver Ekman-Larsson.
“He played 30, 32 minutes a night in the provincials,” said Stone. “We were lucky to have four high-end d-men which made my life easier. Nathan didn’t wear a letter because he got here late, but he was a leader on and off the ice. We called him a grisled veteran.”
The Storm posted a 39-win season to finish ahead of the Victoria Cougars in the nine-team Island loop. Gage Colpron, 20, of Kelowna, finished the year with 55 goals and 102 points.
Browne scored the opening goal, on a powerplay point shot at 5:45 of the first period, as the Storm outlasted the Kimberley Dynamiters 6-5 in the Cyclone Taylor final.
Campbell River grounded the North Vancouver Wolf Pack 6-3, shaded the Nitros 5-4 in double overtime and shaded the Mission City Outlaws 3-2 in preliminary action. The Storm became the first Island entry to claim the Westerns.
“We were all good friends, a tight-knit group and very talented group as well,” said Browne. “We had a lot of depth. We could beat you with skill, speed or work ethic. It was a team like I’d never been part of. It was just very special.”
Campbell River stopped the North Edmonton Red Wings 6-3 in the Keystone final at the Cold Lake Energy Centre in Alberta. North Edmonton iced the Storm 5-4 in the round-robin.
Captain Jordan Rauser, 20, a Campbell River product who suffered through four previous losing seasons, recorded the gold-medal winner.
“They (Red Wings) were an older bunch of guys,” said Browne. “They had four 21-year-olds. We just fed off one another in the finals.”
A 2012 VSS grad, Browne played two years of Junior B with the North Okanagan Knights and one season of Major Midget with the Okanagan Rockets. He was high on the fan support in Campbell River.
“The fans were unreal. We were getting a 1,000 people a night in the playoffs. We get involved in the community: we have to because it’s a really special place to play. Winning is big for the owners (Kevin and Linda Spooner, who own a construction company).”
Browne gave props to Stone – who scouts for the Arizona State Sun Devils – for running a first-class program which went 60-6-1-4 on the year.
“He models his coaching style after Mike Babcock. Very structured, defence-first. We bought into the system right away and that’s what made us so successful. He’s a very good teacher too, a good person to talk to. Get the puck out of the dee zone right away and transition to offence as quick as possible.”
Self-described laid back at and away from the rink, Browne says he tries “to slow the game down a lot.” He should play big minutes with the Selkirk Saints, winners of the B.C. college league last season.
Also joining the two-year program are former Viper Dallas Calvin, Troy Maclise of the Osoyoos Heat and Brett Huber and Nelson Hurry of the Summerland Steam. Browne plans to transfer to Lethbridge or SFU after studying environment and geomatics at Selkirk.
A big Jarome Iginla fan who cheers for the Calgary Flames and Blue Jays, Browne likes golf, fishing and mountain biking. His mom, Marina, lives in Vernon, while his dad, originally of St. Lucia, resides in Toronto.