Inside Blackhawks legend Brent Seabrook’s hunt for a hockey second act

LANGLEY, British Columbia — Mazen Leslie, a 17-year-old defenseman from the WHL’s Vancouver Giants, was watching TV one night when he stumbled across a rerun of an old episode of “Chicago Fire” and saw a familiar-if clean-shaven-face.

Leslie paused the TV, took a quick photo on his phone, and immediately sent it to Brent Seabrook.

Seabrook texted the right back.

Yes, I am an actor too. I can do it all.

He’s still everyone’s big brother. Even when he is old enough to be their father.

They call him Seabs. Neither Coach, nor Mr. Seabrook, nor Brent. Just Seabs. It was always just Seabs. It didn’t take long for this comfort level to reach the Giants; Seabrook has this effect on people. Sure, lifelong Blackhawks fan and Giants winger Ty Hallaburda admitted he was a bit of a “star” the first time Seabrook showed up at the Ladner Recreation Center for a workout. But then Seabrook started doing Seabrook things—posting aliases, cracking jokes, making guys feel good, and telling stories about the good old days.

“He’s easy to talk to,” said Halaburda, who was six years old when his hometown Canucks beat the beloved Blackhawks in the 2011 playoffs. “He’s honestly like another guy. Just a great guy, a great character, and he’s so funny.”


Marian Hossa and Brent Seabrook in 2011 (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Officially, Seabrook is a volunteer player development coach for the Giants. He makes the four-hour drive from his home in Kelowna every two weeks to do some one-on-one work with Giants defensemen. He will engage in the power game. He works with Giants head coach Michael Dick — who coached Seabrook in the WHL more than 20 years ago as an assistant with the Lethbridge Hurricanes — to develop coaching plans. He watches nearly every game on the Internet and has remote access to the Giants’ video system and makes suggestions on layouts, special teams, tics, and individual techniques to players.

It’s no ordinary Seabrook hobby. Take it seriously.

“He’s so passionate, and he loves the game,” Giants assistant coach Adam Maglio said. “He works with the coaching staff and is obviously linked to the players. So, there are a lot of one-on-one conversations with the guys, or we’ll use him in a group talk. He’s kind of a Swiss army knife for us when he comes up.”

Seabrook is a volunteer because, more than three years after his last NHL game, he’s still under contract with the Tampa Bay Lightning through the end of next season. (Yes, Seabrook has a Lightning jersey with his name on it at home; he thought it would be fun to ask for one, and Tampa Bay was happy to oblige.) Giants general manager Barkley Barnetta joked that Seabrook is “the highest-paid draftee in the WHL,” thanks to that deal he made. It lasted eight years and a $55 million dollar that was once a major concern in Chicago.

Working with the Giants was a natural first step out of retirement. His parents lived in Tsawwassen, in the southern suburbs of Vancouver where the Giants practiced. So when Dick went on to coach Team Canada at the World Junior Championships last year, he asked Seabrook to fill in behind the bench for the Giants for a few weeks.

“My record is awful from that, but I learned a lot,” Seabrook said.

“I think we went from 2 to 9,” Parineeta said, laughing. “So I immediately thought, let’s bring him back!”

Now Seabrook has a training bug, which comes as a surprise to him. He’s one of the head coaches at the CHL/NHL Top Prospects game Wednesday night in nearby Langley, coaching against Conor Bedard. On Tuesday afternoon, he was on the ice at Langley Events Center, leading drills, hitting pucks, talking to players, and even clearing nets afterwards to make room for Zamboni. He seemed like a comfortable man in retirement. He seemed like a guy who was having fun and in a good place.

But in fact he is a young man – he is only 37 years old – and he has all his life ahead of him. And he’s just trying to figure out how to spend it.

“It’s weird to say I’m retired, when my dad was 66 and he’s not,” said Seabrook. “But I love hockey. I’ve always loved it. I want to stay in the game, but I don’t know exactly what I want to do right now.”


Seabrook was in tears when he called Michael Terry, the Blackhawks team physician. Three months after a debilitating and deteriorating hip injury forced him into early retirement, Seabrook did not improve. In fact, he was in agony.

“I couldn’t walk,” Seabrook said. “I called Dr. Terry and said, ‘I can’t live like this.'” “

Seabrook underwent an MRI scan. Saw a back specialist. Saw a hip specialist. Finally, he got hip replacement surgery, and it changed his life. Just five weeks after the operation, Seabrook was so satisfied that he called his doctor and told him earnestly that he wanted to return to the NHL.

“He made fun of me and said, ‘No, you’re not,'” Seabrook said.

But he can skate again. He can travel again. Suddenly, a second hockey career seemed realistic. He can’t do anything until his contract expires next year, so in the meantime, he’s trying to learn everything he can about what he calls the “other side” of hockey. There’s the developmental work with the Giants, and now the coaching at Top Prospects Game. He had his old Blackhawks teammate Colin Fraser scout for the Hlinka Gretzky Trophy, marveling at how Fraser was showing off what those 16- and 17-year-olds would look like in Blackhawks uniforms five years down the road. He remains in regular contact with Blackhawks general manager Kyle Davidson, assistant GM Norm McIver and hockey consultant Brian Campbell.

“He’s in my office asking what the GM is doing. He’s outside asking what the coach is doing. He’s talking to the athletic trainer, the equipment guy,” Barnetta said. “He’s very interested in every aspect. He just sees how it all works. Interesting to see that. I don’t know what he’s planning to do. I just hope he doesn’t come over to take my job.”


Kelowna native Brent Seabrook comes to work with the Vancouver Giants two or three times a month. (Courtesy Vancouver Giants)

Training seems to fit naturally. It’s hard to imagine Seabrook grinding it down the lonely trail as a Scout. He belongs in the locker room, his big voice and big personality permeating every booth. He was the beating heart of the Blackhawks for 15 seasons, and it’s no surprise that he returned to that role with the Giants, even when the players were nearly two decades younger than him. It took him a while to learn how to work with younger players—in the NHL, he was surrounded by proven winners who didn’t need much hand-holding—but he quickly adapted. The Giants needed more teaching and more patience. He wasn’t just ordering them to pull the pass while he was defending two players one-on-one by belly-sliding; He was showing them exactly how to do it and which specific angles to cut.

But more than that, learn to connect with your players on a more basic level, to reach out to them and instill in them a winner’s mentality. Most coaches have either never played in the NHL or are decades past their playing days. Even Giants assistant coach Jim VanderMeer, Seabrook’s teammate with the Blackhawks in the late 2000s, was removed 11 years from his last NHL game.

Seabrook isn’t just a name. It’s the name of these guys Flag.

“He’s young,” said Giants forward Samuel Hunzik. “It was only a short time ago he was still playing. But he’s also easy to talk to. He won’t bite your head off.”

“It was crazy to have a guy like that around,” said Leslie. “He teaches you all the things about how to be a pro and how to stay there all these years. He’s won three cups, so it’s crazy. Anything he tells you, you have to hear it.”

“It’s not just someone telling them these things, it’s someone who has real experience,” said Parnetta. “He’s been through it, and they know it. So if he says something, they’re like, ‘Oh, I get it.’ I could tell them the same thing and they wouldn’t listen to me. But when Brent Seabrook says it, they will.”

Seabrook was already veering in that direction late in his career, welcoming rookie Kirby Dach into his home and mentoring him throughout the season. And now he’s applying everything he’s learned — how to talk to young gamers, how to reach out to young gamers, how to connect with young gamers — into the Top Prospects Game. It’s a fair sure, but for all those players trying to compete for a draft spot behind Bedard, the pressure is overwhelming.

Seabrook is doing everything he can to relieve that pressure.

“It’s a game full of players who need to be put in situations to give their best,” said Seabrook. “My focus is to have fun and keep them loose. They have 300 scouts in the crowd, and all this stuff is going on. So you try to get the best out of them and have some fun. It’s the way I wanted to play. That’s what I wanted the dressing room to be, a fun place.” And my voice was really loud so I managed to get it that way sometimes.”


It’s weird to retire so early. You feel isolated and defenseless. You may not miss the daily grind and physical burdens of the game, but you feel queasy with every season start and every opening game you didn’t get to play in. You also go from seeing your best friends every day to not seeing them at all. You feel like an outsider, and it’s not a great feeling.

After Patrick Sharpe retired, Seabrook noticed that they weren’t talking much, and it bothered him.

So I gave it—one day. Why don’t we talk?” Seabrook recalled. “It’s like, ‘It’s hard to talk to you guys. You’re busy. You’re on the road. You’re in this town or that town. I’m thinking of calling you, but it’s a day. Game, and I don’t want to disturb you. I check the schedule and say, ‘Okay, I’ll call tomorrow.’ But then I forget and it’s too late.”

Seabrook understands that now. He wants to talk to Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane more often. He wants to see how things are under Luke Richardson. He – like everyone else – wants to know which way they lean when it comes to no-action clauses as the trade deadline approaches. But he mostly stays away. He went to the Blackhawks-Canucks game on Tuesday at Rogers Arena and was planning to catch up with the guys after the game, but the team was going straight to the airport for Calgary, so there wasn’t much time. He said he found that text messages are more likely to be returned than calls.

This is not his world anymore. taken from him a few years too early; The spirit was ready but the body was weak, well worn out from 1,114 regular season games and 123 playoff games. But with a new joint and a fresh look, he’s looking for a second chapter in hockey once his contract finally expires.

Maybe it will be in junior hockey, here in Vancouver with the Giants. Maybe he’ll be in the NHL, again in Chicago, with the only team he’s ever known. He still has 17 months to find out.

Meanwhile, he is content to be an unpaid volunteer for a junior hockey team. Hey man, hockey hockey. And “humble” is a word the Giants throw around a lot while talking about Seabrook.

Driving a van from Kelowna to Vancouver. He ignores Parneta’s offer to have the team cover the gas. He goes out for beer with the Giants staff. He gives his phone number to each Giants member and tells them to call or text at any time. He sends them texts of encouragement, congratulations or constructive criticism after the matches.

And sitting in the room with the boys, he tells stories about Ken and Toyos and Keith and the good old days.

Back on the ice, back in the room, back in his element. Seabs just being Seabs.

“I’m just trying to have fun,” Seabrook said. “Hockey is fun. It’s supposed to be fun. And you play your best when you’re having fun. Right now, I’m just happy to be in the game again.”

(Top photo of Brent Seabrook at Top Prospects Game practice Tuesday: Bob Frid/Courtesy Vancouver Giants)

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