CORAL SPRINGS — Owen Brady has been through more than anyone could ever fathom, yet he still had the biggest smile at Florida Panthers development camp.
The 20-year-old defenseman had to step away from hockey for two years due to a fight with cancer.
And he won.
“I feel like I deserve it. I worked really hard for this,” Brady said.
“I tried to do my best but I also tried to have a lot of fun with it because, through my struggles, I learned to try to enjoy what you are doing and I’m sure if you asked any of the other guys in there, I was making the most jokes and saying stupid stuff.
“But I was just trying to take it all in and enjoy it as much as I can.”
Yes, ask anyone around the Panthers during camp last week about Brady and they will all say the same thing: He was the happiest person there.
And why not?
He missed two of the most important years of his hockey career while getting surgery on his leg to remove the tumor, then spent the next two grinding it out in various Canadian junior leagues.
Then Florida general manager Bill Zito called, giving Brady a chance to prove himself in front of an NHL front office.
“He is a great kid,” Bryan McCabe, the director of player personnel for the Florida Panthers, said on Friday.
“From a personality standpoint, he stood out amongst the whole group. He is a very funny, humorous guy with a great attitude on life.”
Brady did not think he would even get this opportunity.
He found out he got the invite from his agent while working a shift at his local golf course.
“I was running around at work,” Brady said.
“I didn’t know what to do with myself but it was really exciting. I was super excited and I kind of just got mentally prepared and really focused on trying to have fun and enjoy it.”
After spending the day at the course — where he works and shoots in the high 70s during his free time — his boss gave him the go-ahead to take the week off to follow his dream in South Florida.
“I’ve been golfing since I was 5-years-old, so it was a mini-dream job for me,” Brady said.
“I get free golf and hang around at the golf course just to have some money over the summer. Obviously, my training is No. 1 and my boss there knows that. He was really thrilled for me to be here.”
Having the job along with his training schedule also helped add discipline to his offseason.
Brady would wake up at 5 a.m. to go to work before training and skating during his day shifts while spending time working on his game before his night shifts.
In between, he attends public speaking events — sharing his story of triumph over cancer with others.
“I don’t really even have a chance to think about it,” Brady said when asked what his typical day looks like.
“I am busy all the time, but in my opinion, being busy is the best. You don’t have time to deal with all of the shenanigans. I stay off my phone, I like to go to bed early and that keeps me in line.”
On top of that, Brady is planning on studying kinesiology at school while continuing to pursue his hockey career.
“Through my surgeries, I took a love for the body,” he said.
And he took full advantage of every resource he had at development camp to learn all he can about both health and hockey, having deep conversations with everyone from Spencer Knight to Florida’s training staff.
“I tried to learn everything, just as much off the ice and I did on the ice,” Brady said.
“Even talking to my peers or guys who play in the AHL and the CHL, just trying to pick their brains and see what they do on a daily basis to make sure they are being the best they can.”
And through each conversation, no matter what the topic was, he kept a list of everything he learned on his phone so he can bring it back home when he returns for his second season with the CCHL’s Carleton Place Canadiens.
“The clear message from the staff this week was to try to learn something out of this week,’’ Brady said, “and I think I did that.”
FLORIDA PANTHERS ON DECK
- Now: Free agency period is open
- Mid-September: Training Camp, South Florida
- Sept. 25: Preseason starts; Doubleheader v. Nashville @ Sunrise
- Oct. 7: Preseason ends; v. Tampa Bay Lightning @ Sunrise
- Oct. 12: Start of 2023-24 Regular Season at Minnesota Wild
- Oct. 19: 2023-24 Home Opener vs. Toronto Maple Leafs