Success at the junior A level didn’t come easy for Evan DeBrouwer.
The Blenheim, Ontario native went from not wanting to play hockey anymore to the backbone of a magical playoff run with the Prince George Spruce Kings.
Before ending up the Spruce Kings, DeBrouwer endured a rough ride in his first BCHL season with the Nanaimo Clippers in 2016-17. He was 15-23-0 with a 3.15 goals-against average and a .894 save percentage.
He put up better numbers in the playoffs with a .932 save percentage, but the Clippers were dispatched in five games during the first round at the hands of the Victoria Grizzlies.
Frustrated and seemingly out of options, DeBrouwer received an unlikely push after getting dealt to the Spruce Kings in June 2017 for forward Parker Colley and future considerations.
“I was considering going to school and not playing because I was pretty bummed out about the year I just had with Nanaimo. I had a really bad year, and it was probably my worst performance that I have ever had throughout my entire career during the regular season.”
“I didn’t expect to get traded and when I heard the news, I wasn’t feeling too good about it because I had not gotten a lot of opportunities with schools. I hadn’t talked to a school in a really long time and it was Alex Evin and my dad who convinced me.”
“My dad was like, ‘There is always school.’ and then I got really excited when I talked to Alex and he talked about how he saw me the year before quite a bit since he was working with Alberni Valley at the time. He thought there were some things I could improve on and he just got me really excited.”
DeBrouwer admitted it took him a handful of games to get back to the level he was used to.
“The season started and I wasn’t good for the first eight to ten games but we were working on a lot of things. Alex told me to stay positive and there was a lot to change because the year before I wasn’t a good goalie and I had a lot of bad habits and only myself to blame for not playing well.”
“We were changing so many things with my game that it doesn’t just click – it was a little bit frustrating because I hadn’t solidified myself as the number one goalie yet because Brad Cooper was playing well and here I was struggling.”
“It was about fifteen games into the season when I started playing well and getting the results I wanted and from then on it was pretty smooth sailing.”
As DeBrouwer went, so did the Spruce Kings en route to claiming their first ever Mainland Division title with a 33-17-4-4 record.
Seventh heaven against Chilliwack and the start of a run
Despite having the upper hand over Chilliwack in the regular season, their first-round playoff series against the Chiefs turned out to be an instant classic.
After going back and forth for six games, the Spruce Kings pulled out a thrilling 3-1 game seven victory in front of a sold-out Rolling Mix Concrete Arena.
“That was the best thing ever for us, it was real playoff hockey. We had dominated Chilliwack in the regular season and in the playoffs, we knew it would be different because they were hosting the RBC Cup (that year).”
“We felt like it could be a challenge, and it was the perfect thing because it was chip and chase, every shift was a battle, every game was a battle and you had to earn every single inch and it was great because when we ended up winning it got us into playoff mode, thinking everything is a war,” added DeBrouwer.
After an emotional series against the Chiefs, the Spruce Kings found their backs against the wall against the Surrey Eagles.
After a game one win where PG put up nine goals, the Eagles rattled off three consecutive wins to push the Mainland Division champs to the brink.
“I think we let our foot off the gas because we thought it was going to be easy and then we found ourselves in a pretty big hole right away.”
Led by captain Kyle Johnson who potted a goal and two assists, the Spruce Kings bounced back with a 4-1 victory in game five with another trip to Surrey on the horizon – a place where they hadn’t won all season.
“We knew we weren’t going to lose game five because we were so good at home and our home rink gave us such an advantage because we were so used to playing in it. Even the game we lost (Game 2), we outshot them 47-14 and their goalie played amazing and stole it.”
“In their arena, they have the Olympic ice, and we kind of treated game six like it was game seven because we knew if we got a win there, we were going to win game seven at home. We ended up playing the perfect game, the guys played the best game we did all season,” added DeBrouwer.
Prince George wrapped up its war of attrition against the Eagles with a dominant 4-0 win to move on to the third round against Powell River. The Spruce Kings disposed of the Kings in five games.
During the playoff run, the Spruce Kings enjoyed many sold out crowds at RMCA, shoehorning 2,212 people into one of the oldest arenas in the BCHL.
Demand to buy tickets was so high, that fans lined up outside just to get a piece of the action.
DeBrouwer, who’s now 23, said the Spruce Kings always felt they were up a goal as they took to the ice, thanks to their rabid fanbase.
“It was amazing. It went from getting 700 people in the regular season, and we had a certain amount of fans who went to every game and they would sit in the same spot, which was pretty cool. Then it went to selling out, but it was so loud in there it was crazy. The tension was so high in the building, you could feel it.”
“I remember we were down 1-0 against Chilliwack in game seven and we hadn’t got any good scoring chances and then all of a sudden we got that first goal and the place just erupted. It was the loudest place I had ever played in during that point. That building was the (most) fun place to play in the whole league because the arena is a shoebox, the fans are on top of you, and you can hear everyone individually.”
Prince George found itself in the Fred Page Cup Final against the stacked Wenatchee Wild, where they fell in five games. Even though coming up short stings DeBrouwer a little to this day, it doesn’t take away from the experience.
“I think we squeezed all the water out of that sponge. We were a good solid team, but Wenatchee was a really good team, they were stacked. If we weren’t as well-coached as we were I am not sure we would have gone as far. We got lucky too, winning two game sevens. It was disappointing because we wanted to continue playing, but it was quite the run and led into next year.”
DeBrouwer finished the playoffs with a 13-11 record, a 2.12 goals-against average, and a .925 save percentage.
Shining with the Sun Devils
In February 2018, DeBrouwer committed to Arizona State and is now in his third season with a Division I program on the rise.
Last year, he won 19 games as a sophomore riding a goals-against-average of 2.52 and four shutouts.
“It’s been an awesome experience, everything and more than I could have hoped for. That season in Prince George helped out a lot and made the transition a lot easier because Alex (Evin) played college hockey at Colgate. It’s been a good transition.”
The Ontario product feels the hockey program is getting more traction from everyone on campus.
“I remember my first year when we were a new program and the team didn’t have much success on the ice,” he explains. “Then after that first season, we made the tournament and were ranked, making a name for ourselves, (and) gaining a lot of popularity on campus.”
“I remember getting into an Uber in my freshman year and when I told the driver that ASU had a hockey program, they didn’t even know. Now, if you mention hockey to someone, we get a lot more attention, which is exciting.”