One day, Tyler Browning is busy going about his business, the next day, he’s firing up Google Maps.
Well, Browning is the newest member of the Maritime Hockey League’s newest team as the Fredericton Red Wings prepare for their inaugural season in the competitive junior A circuit.
To say he knew exactly where Fredericton is located would be shielding the truth, chuckled Browning.
One phone call from Red Wings’ general manager Brent Grant changed all of that.
‘To be completely honest, I had really never heard of Fredericton until I was contacted by Brent with news of the trade,’ said Browning. ‘I feel pretty bad saying that, but being from the most Western part of the United States, you don’t hear a lot about Canada past Toronto. I’ve done my research since finding out and excited to hopefully call Fredericton for this season.’
Browning’s route to Fredericton is a bit out of the ordinary when you talk about hockey pathways.
The six-foot-two and 190-pound defenceman was traded to Fredericton from Ontario’s Dryden Ice Dogs of the Superior International Junior Hockey League for future considerations. That league encompasses junior A teams from Ontario, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
A native of Hunington Beach, CA, you would think baseball, basketball, surfing or other pursuits would have been part of Browning’s upbringing.
Not when you have a father who found himself hooked on the game when the National Hockey League brought the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim to California.
Mr. Browning took to playing recreational hockey and ended up becoming friends with some of the NHL players back in the early 1990s.
‘When I was born, Dad had stopped playing, but decided to get me into hockey when I was about five-years-old,’ said Browning. ‘That’s how it all started.’
Browning would continue playing minor hockey in California, but stepped away from the game after his major midget under-16 year.
Stepped away for two years, in fact.
The itch to play again returned and through a coaching and friend connection, Browning landed a roster spot with California’s Long Beach Bombers of the Western States Hockey League.
That experience with the Bombers would lead to an invitation to attend training camp with the Tier II junior A British Columba Hockey League’s Salmon Arm Silverbacks.
From Salmon Arm, he would land a spot in the Alberta Junior Hockey League with the Drayton Valley Thunder where he went pointless in 10 games before making his way to Dryden, where Browning settled in nicely, posting seven goals and 14 assists while racking up 59 penalty minutes in 39 games with the Ice Dogs.
‘It’s been quite a journey for me, but it’s just been a great experience over all,’ said Browning. ‘Everything has been pretty exciting. I can’t wait to get to Fredericton. I’ve learned it’s the first time there is junior hockey in the city in over 40 years. It is going to be a great opportunity to be a part of it. It seems like there’s a lot of hype around the city.’
The two-way rearguard doesn’t mind the sandpaper areas of the ice which includes blocking shots and working the penalty killing unit.
‘We like his versatility and willingness to do what it takes to earn some extra inches on the ice at both ends which can be a difference in winning a tight game,’ said Grant, eagerly anticipating the Wings’ first training camp. ‘Tyler is a character player. We will have plenty of new faces in the organization, so it’s critical we find those type of players.’
Browning helped quarterback Dryden’s powerplay which helped spur solid offensive numbers.
‘I have always tried to be a versatile player who likes to play a gritty, physical game and I always want to finish my checks,’ he said. ‘I enjoy playing a leadership role for my teammates. I’ll do anything to help the team be successful.’
It is a head-shaker for Browning that he is a 20-year-old.
At the junior level, that age qualifies as an elder statesman, but it’s also something he takes seriously.
‘It’s hard for me to believe I’m already a 20-year-old because time is flying by,’ he said. ‘Being a veteran or a ’20-bomb’ on the team means there is a major role of setting an example to the younger guys. Junior hockey is a completely different animal than youth hockey. My experience and other veterans on the team are key to team success.’
For now, Browning is getting ready to make his way to Fredericton and get his first look at New Brunswick’s Capital City and the winged wheel, red and white jerseys of the Red Wings.
Fredericton will play in the MHL’s East Link South Division with Campbellton Tigers, Edmundston Blizzard, Grand Falls Rapids, Miramichi Timberwolves and Summerside Western Capitals.
Amherst Ramblers, Pictou County Weeks Crushers, South Shore Lumberjacks of Bridgewater, Truro Bearcats, Valley Wildcats of Berwick and Yarmouth Mariners make up the all-Nova Scotia East Link South Division.
Fredericton opens training camp in late August.
The Red and White scrimmage will answer roster questions when that competitive training camp outing is held Thursday, Aug. 29, at 7 p.m. at Grant-Harvey Centre.
Fredericton will also play two pre-season games at home.
The Red Wings greet Grand Falls on Sunday, Sept. 1, at 2 p.m., and then host Miramichi on Friday, Sept. 6, at 7 p.m. It gets real in a hurry as the club hits the road for its first two regular season games including Game 1 in Pictou County on Sept. 12 and at Valley the next night.
Fredericton’s much anticipated home opener unfolds Friday, Sept. 20, when the Rapids come calling at 7 p.m. The Red Wings stay home Saturday, Sept. 21, with Summerside in town.