Retired NHL star Eric Brewer returned to his hometown for the first time in about 15 years on May 29 to give advice to students at Desert Sands Community School.
The defenceman told students that he moved to Prince George in 1994, when he was a teenager, to play for the Cougars in the Western Hockey League. He went on to be drafted fifth overall by the New York Islanders in 1997 and played more than 1,000 games in the league, he said, for teams such as Edmonton, St. Louis, Tampa Bay, Anaheim, and Toronto.
But before his lengthy NHL career, Brewer told the students that he lived “up on the Mesa” in Ashcroft for nine years. He attended school, hiked, went to the lake and, of course, played minor hockey.
“There are 1,600 people here … it actually means nothing other than there are 1,600 people in Ashcroft,” Brewer said, encouraging the students to follow their dreams.
“If you want to go out and you want to try some stuff down the road … think about some of these things that you are really passionate about … because you can make it happen.”
While his path was hockey, he said, the students “can do many different things.”
“Running a ranch, being an accountant, seamstress, teacher, computer science major, musician,” he said. “Whatever that is that you want to do, that’s awesome.”
And whatever the students want to do, he added, it will take hard work.
“You’re talking about hours and hours and hours of practice … it’s about gym sessions that happen when no one’s looking,” he said of the work he put into his career.
“This stuff happens. It happens more than you think, but you’ve got to believe that it’s going to happen. You have to be willing to work for it.”
He also spoke about the importance of being respectful.
“Having worked with a number of professional sports teams, that’s the first thing they ask all the time,” he said. “‘Does he play well with others?‘”
After his speech, Brewer answered questions from the students.
Asked what he thought had changed the most about Ashcroft since he lived here, he said “I think there’s a few less people,” and noted the combination of the elementary and secondary schools.
However, he said, the trails and sand dunes looked to be the same when he was out riding.
He also said that since he began playing professional hockey straight out of high school and did not pursue a formal post-secondary education, he plans to “take something else” in the near future, such as a finance class.
“How money is used these days is drastically different than when I grew up,” he said. “I think it’s important for you young folks getting involved with that world of money.”
Recently Brewer settled in Vancouver with his wife and two children. He is one of six owners of the Prince George Cougars, he said, and helps coach his daughter’s team.
His parents and sister live in Kamloops, where they have lived for 25 years, he said, adding this his family moved there the year before he was drafted by the Prince George Cougars.
He said he has been back to Kamloops more recently, but “lived in the states for so long that it was all [they] could do to get back to B.C., let alone to get through [Ashcroft] and visit.”
People of Pukaist governance coordinator Cheryl Billy, who reached out to Brewer a few months ago to invite him to the school, said their office is hoping to have him return in the future.
“We’re hoping to bring him back,” Billy said, adding that they are working with the minor hockey association on a “hall of fame” idea.
She also said she is planning to bring other role models who were raised in small towns to Ashcroft, such as BC Lions and Miss Universe 2015 winner Ashley Callingbull.
“I was finding kids really latch on to stories like this, especially in a small town,” she said. “So something I wanted to create was to call on people who have made it to the big show who are from small towns.”