Don’t call it a backup plan. Call it a long-term goal.
Hunter Brzustewicz, the Vancouver Canucks’ 75th overall pick in the 2023 draft, is eager to make the NHL and play for the Canucks but he also already has a plan for after his hockey career is over: he wants to be a sports broadcaster.
To be clear, that’s “sports broadcaster” and not “hockey broadcaster.” While there are certainly hockey players who go into broadcasting after hanging up their skates, becoming analysts and colour commentators for the sport they played, Brzustewicz doesn’t want to just talk hockey.
“Growing up, no one ever played hockey in my family, so it was always watching basketball, football, a little bit of baseball, golf and now I love soccer,” said Brzustewicz. “I love talking about it, I love getting in arguments with guys about who's better and whatever.”
Brzustewicz doesn’t just have hockey idols — players he wants to emulate — but a broadcasting idol as well.
“My idol in that area is Stephen A. Smith, so I want to be him,” he said. “ESPN would be the ultimate goal.”
Smith is a boisterous and infectious TV personality, who started his career covering the NBA but worked his way to the top of the ESPN food chain covering a multitude of sports. It’s a bold goal to aim at following in Smith’s footsteps but it’s a goal Brzustewicz takes seriously.
That said, hockey still comes first.
With career goals beyond hockey, taking a development route through the NCAA might have made sense for Brzustewicz, allowing him to take classes to work towards his broadcasting dream while also still working towards the NHL. He was initially on that path, playing for the U.S. National Team Development Program (USNTDP) with an eye towards the University of Michigan, but then he took a detour through the OHL with the Kitchener Rangers, ending his NCAA eligibility.
Ultimately, Brzustewicz chose to prioritize his development in hockey, as he was frustrated with the limited opportunities with the USNTDP.
“Growing up as a Michigan kid, I was the biggest Michigan fan, always wanting to go there,” said Brzustewicz. “But after not playing the first year at the program, and not really getting the biggest catch-up in the second year at the program, I needed to play. That's what I needed to do to get to the next level and even if that crushed my dreams of going to Michigan, that's what I had to do.
“I’m very glad I did it.”
The decision worked out well for Brzustewicz, who excelled with the Rangers. His 57 points in 68 games was good for eighth among OHL defencemen in scoring and first among first-time draft-eligible defencemen. Public draft rankings had him consistently ranked in the second round, which led to some nervous moments when he had to wait until the third round for the Canucks to draft him.
“It’s very stressful when you’re sitting up there,” said Brzustewicz. His brother, Henry Brzustewicz, a potential top prospect for the 2025 NHL Entry Draft, sat next to him and the two reminded each other of their belief that everything happens for a reason.
Now, with the draft in the past, Brzustewicz is intent on making the Canucks happy they picked him.
“When everyone gets here at development camp, everyone’s on the same page,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what round or what pick you were, we’re all on the same playing field and I’m ready for the task.”