Veteran defenseman Brennan Evans is happy to still be playing after 10 seasons in the AHL.
Story and photo by Mark Newman
Brennan Evans would love to be a rock star someday. There’s only one problem.
“I just lack the musical talent,” Evans said. “I have a guitar and I can probably play the intro to about 10 songs, but that’s about it.”
An avid music lover, his tastes run the complete gamut – Pink Floyd and Pearl Jam are two of his favorites – but he draws the line at country, which is ironic since country is almost all you hear in his hometown of Camrose, Alberta, located in the prairies in western Canada.
“I go to concerts every chance I get,” Evans said. “I saw Roger Waters this past summer and it was unbelievable, but the timing couldn’t have been worse because I ended up with a bad case of kidney stones.”
He ranks “The Wall” as one of the best shows he’s ever seen, right up there with the two times he’s seen Tool, the adventurous rock group fronted by Maynard James Keenan, who once studied at Kendall College of Art and Design in Grand Rapids.
Evans’ iPod is a fixture in the Griffins’ dressing room. “With close to 10,000 songs, everybody can find a piece of something they might like on it,” Evans said.
Rock stardom, however, seems out of his reach, although Evans can lay claim to having once met Kirk Hammett of Metallica and getting to hang out with the band after a concert.
But don’t count him out just yet. After all, the Griffins defenseman has been defying the odds for years.
Evans was never drafted by an NHL team, but Detroit represents his sixth organization after previous tours with Calgary, Ottawa, San Jose, Anaheim and St. Louis.
He is not the fastest skater, doesn’t have the hardest shot and certainly doesn’t have the softest hands, but Evans is now in his 10th pro season and is rapidly approaching 700 games played in the AHL.
For a big, physical defenseman, Evans has been remarkably resilient. He has played in 70 or more games during six of the past seven seasons.
His career highlights include two Stanley Cup Playoff games in 2004 against Steve Yzerman and the Detroit Red Wings (he even has a photo to prove it) and a 2011 hat trick – a rarity for any defenseman and a remarkable achievement for a player whose career high for goals in a season is three.
He’s amassed more than 1,400 penalty minutes in his pro career, having fought more than 100 times entering this season. It’s not been the easiest way to make a living, but he’s more than happy to come to the defense of his teammates.
“Honestly, I’m happy to do anything I can to stay in the game,” Evans said. “I don’t score a lot of goals, and you have to find ways to make yourself valuable, so I don’t mind fighting. There’s a lot worse ways to make a living.”
Being a bigger guy – he’s listed at 6-foot-4, 230 pounds – Evans is expected to be a physical presence on the ice. It helped to have grown up with two younger brothers, and he’s certainly had a lot of practice over the years. “I’m not sure ‘better’ is the word for it,” he said of his fighting prowess. “Maybe I’ve gotten smarter.”
Over the years, he’s battled plenty of guys with whom he is on friendly terms. His first fight in the Western Hockey League was against James DeMone. “He’s a good friend of mine and he broke my nose,” he said. “That’s something you laugh about.”
And a broken nose isn’t the worse of it. Evans has been knocked out twice.
“The worst was in Cranbrook, British Columbia, when I was playing in junior hockey. It was kind of ugly. The TV station there played highlights every hour and they ran this clip of me lying unconscious on the ice, face down, for almost a week. You can see the blood pooling underneath me.
“It was actually a good fight, and the funny thing is, I thought I was winning. He caught me right here” – Evans points to his right cheek, just under the eye – “and I don’t remember anything after. Took eight stitches. It was Logan Stephenson, and we ended up playing together in Iowa. He put me in the hospital for a night and gave me the worst concussion of my life, but we laughed when we talked about it.”
Evans believes his longevity is attributable to taking good care of his body and a lot of luck. He learned about the value of good nutrition when he started his pro career in the Calgary organization. He’s also done his share of boxing over the years.
“When I lived in Calgary, I tried kickboxing for two summers and that was a whole different ballgame. It was a lot of cardio as much as anything else. We’d warm up for the first half hour until we were dead-tired, then we’d spar, but we were so tired, we couldn’t really do anything. It was actually a lot of fun.”
Evans has fond memories of Calgary, in part because it’s the one stop where he got a chance to play at the highest level.
He served as a “black ace” during the 2004 Stanley Cup Playoffs and was pressed into duty after injuries depleted the Flames’ roster against the Red Wings.
“I remember sitting in a hotel room, and they weren’t sure if Rhett Warrener was going to be able to play because of an eye injury,” Evans said. “At 2 o’clock in the afternoon, they called and said he can’t go, you’re playing.”
Butterflies already in his stomach, his nerves were compounded on the way to the rink when an accident blocked the main street heading into the arena. “I could see the rink from where I was stuck in traffic. I thought about just leaving my car and running to the rink,” he said. “I was on the phone with the team and they said, ‘Don’t worry. Just get here whenever you can.’”
Evans arrived more than a half-hour later than planned, but made it in time for the warmup skate.
“It is one of my most vivid memories. I was trying not to look over to their side on purpose because of the personnel they had. I finally thought, I have to at least sneak a look, and in three seconds I saw Steve Yzerman, Brett Hull, Nick Lidstrom, (Pavel) Datsyuk and (Henrik) Zetterberg. It was nuts.”
Evans got exactly one shift in the game, which amounted to 32 seconds of ice time, but his team won 3-2 to take the lead in a series the Flames would eventually win in six games. “It was only one shift, but to be honest, I was just happy sitting on the bench,” he said. “I had the best seat in the house.”
He saw about five minutes of ice time in the next game, even getting into a brief brush with Yzerman, which has been preserved for posterity by a photo that he proudly treasures. “I don’t really remember how it happened, but we’ve got our gloves in each other’s face, and you can clearly see that it’s Yzerman and me. It’s a great photo.”
His other career highlight came two seasons ago when he got a hat trick in Peoria against Texas, the three goals being as many as he had scored in his previous 288 games combined.
“Weird is the best word for it because I don’t score a lot of goals,” he said. “I’ve gone whole seasons without a goal. Once in a while I get a good shot from the point, but usually I’m lucky if they bounce in.”
Amazingly, the third goal came on a breakaway as Evans was coming back onto the ice from the penalty box. “I was so nervous – I think it’s my only breakaway in the pros. I’ve got one move that I do in practice all of the time, and I did it and it worked. I have a photo from the game that shows one hat on the ice and us celebrating on the bench like we just won the Stanley Cup.”
If it seems hard to believe, video highlights of the game can stlll be found on YouTube. Still, Evans knows that the Red Wings didn’t bring him to Grand Rapids for his goal-scoring ability.
“It’s nice to contribute offensively and you always want to pitch in, but it’s not why I’m here,” he said. “Teams know what they’re getting, at least I hope so. Hopefully, every team has gotten what they wanted out of me.
“If my role here is to set a good example and help the younger guys get to the next level, I welcome that opportunity, whether it’s showing them how to be pros at the rink or helping them with the off-ice things that aren’t necessarily taught to you by coaches.”
Evans would like to continue playing as long as he is healthy. Another five seasons might get him to 1,000 games, which would certainly be an accomplishment.
“I’m definitely proud of the number of games I’ve been able to play,” he said. “Hopefully I can play a few more years.”