Catching Up With Former Para Ice Hockey Player Brad Bowden

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Clayton Theriault
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If you only have a few minutes to spare, here's what you should know:
Brad Bowden is a Canadian former Para Ice hockey player from Ontario, Canada.
He was a member of Canada’s men’s national team from 2000 to 2014.
Bowden is currently the high-performance director for Japan’s men’s national para ice hockey team.

Finding a new role in retirement

Brad Bowden is a Canadian former Para Ice hockey player from Ontario, Canada. He was a member of Canada’s men’s national team from 2000 to 2014. He is currently the high performance director for Japan’s men’s national para ice hockey team. Hockey Of Tomorrow had a little chat with him.

HoT: What was the transition like from being a player to a development role?

Bowden: ''It's been pretty interesting and exciting. I've learned quite a bit being on the other side. I see the game a lot different. I feel like I'm learning a lot more about the game because I get to see it from a different aspect and work one on one with players and work on their individual skills.

So it's been pretty interesting to transition. It's not easy to develop players, it's not easy to get things through to a lot of players all the time. It's interesting to try to come up with new ways to educate on how to develop and come up with new, creative ways with the coaching staff to educate players that learn in different ways. Come up with different philosophies or concepts to teach new skill sets to players that are from a country that doesn't always necessarily know a lot about hockey.''

HoT: Was coaching and development something you knew you would transition to once you retired?

Bowden: I didn’t expect to do anything like this after playing. I thought it was pretty cool to get the opportunity. I always wanted to, but I didn't know if I would.

I didn't really feel like I fit in much as I didn't really want to be a coach. I never really thought too much about getting into coaching. I did a little bit of coaching with the Elmvale Bears off and on as an assistant coach a long time ago and some stuff with the Ontario team.

I was more interested in the skill aspect side of things and teaching high performance skill and did more of the high level sledge hockey transitional skills. It's been pretty cool to be able to do that. I kind of always thought that's where I belong, but I never really thought that it would be what I would be doing. I'm pretty grateful for that.

HoT: How did the high performance director role with the Japan men's team come about?

Bowden: I had been sitting around prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. I thought about getting involved with the women's team and reaching out to them. I had talked to a friend before COVID-19 hit about trying to do something with the women because I hadn't heard much from the men's programs and I hadn't had much luck.

I thought, well, maybe I'll give back to the women's program. I was looking into doing something with Japan because I figured North America's got quite a few good programs, you know, let's start looking at Asia and build up the sport in other countries. Then it fell through because of COVID-19 and then near the tail end of the pandemic I got an email from the same person that asked if I'd be interested in doing something with the men. They contacted me about helping out. They wanted my services and they were extremely eager to do whatever they could to get me out [to Japan]. I flew out and checked it out and it looked like a good situation and I liked what they had to work with. I decided to take them up on the offer.

Team Japan headshot.
Former Canada men's national team member has found a new role with Japan’s men’s national para ice hockey team

Trusting the process

HoT: What are your personal goals over the course of your contract?

Bowden: My personal goals are to succeed.

I was a skilled player for many years and I'm all about passing on those skills that I've learned that made me such an influential player when I was on the ice. I think that if I can pass along some of those skill sets and help create a bit of a culture around some of those principles that I learned in Canada ; simple skill sets and the fundamentals and all that.

My personal goals are to create a life out here and do the best that I can to build the sport and create a successful program and help players achieve what they want to achieve and hopefully help them make their dreams come true like some of my dreams came true in the past playing the sport.

A lot of players have been through a lot out here and it's pretty cool to get to work with players that want to work hard and want to someday win a medal at the Paralympic level. I intend to hopefully do something to help them achieve that.

HoT: What were some of the initial challenges in your role?

Bowden: One of the big challenges is the language. A lot of things get lost in translation. I've been fortunate enough to be around a few people that do speak English. I also had a few people on the team that did help out with some of the translation in the beginning.

One of the other ones is the culture. It's different. There's not a big hockey culture out here but there are a lot of hockey players that play out here. For the average person in Japan, almost everyone is unaware of the rules of the game and the unspoken rules. All of these little things that we take for granted in Canada that we learn at a young age just because it's on television every day or we're playing it at school every day at recess.

It’s different to be somewhere where it's a new sport that's unique to some of these players. That's been one of the challenges is trying to get the information across through speaking English and trying to get that translated. I've had some help and luckily I've been able to find some people to help me out with some of the other, more intense translation stuff that's done. We're doing pretty good as a staff right now. There are many challenges, the same problems that other teams have building their program and getting those skill sets going.

HoT: How did you form a bond with the players and staff?

Bowden: When I got here, it was pretty easy because I think a lot of the players were just eager to listen to what I had to say. I think a lot of them were fans of the sport and most of the players that play watched a lot of the top teams play. I think that they really followed a lot of what I had done in the past and they were fans of Billy Bridges, Greg Westlake and Adam Dixon.

It's pretty cool to come over here and have players sit down at the table and be really eager to listen to what I have to say and listen to my feedback and take some of the constructive criticism. They used to watch me play and they know that I'm coming from a place where I've actually done all of the things that I'm suggesting to them. They have just such a level of respect for me and I can really feel the respect.

It's been pretty easy to form a bond with the players. They want to get better, they want to win for their country and they want to do what it takes to get better. It's been pretty easy. The staff has been, for the most part, pretty great. Just like any other staff you're gonna have your ups and downs. It's been a pretty smooth transition so far and things are on track. I don't have much to complain about.

Bowden at the 2014 Paralympics in Sochi

Always learning

HoT: What is your favorite part about your job?

Bowden: My favorite part about my job is I have the freedom to be creative. I have the freedom to design and implement any kind of philosophies or practices that I do to develop skill sets and bring over ideas that I used to implement on the ice. I remember being on the ice practicing with Adam Dixon and Billy a long time ago and we would just, just come up with random things to do on the ice to challenge us. Now I get to take that same kind of level of thinking, implement that and create drills that are gonna help a program develop their skill. I think it's pretty cool to have that kind of level of freedom to be creative and gave the green light to try new things and take risks and take some gambles. It's been pretty cool to be able to, to do that. Plus just being here, it's just a great, great opportunity. I'm so thankful for the opportunity and so many good things have happened in my life since I got here, not just in my professional life but in my personal life as well. I just feel like a different person and I feel like I've taken a 180 internally and spiritually. I’m a lot more grateful for things and seeing a different side of the world. It's all connected and it's all been just amazing.

HoT: What are some of the lessons you've learned so far during your time in Japan?

Bowden: One of the big ones is to really chill out and calm down. I feel like there's a different level of…I don't know. North America is just full of stress. Since I came out here it's been a nice opportunity to learn how to de-stress and not fill your mind with unnecessary things that cause those stresses. It's been really calming. You don't see a lot of road rage out here. You don't see a lot of people yelling or arguing on the street. You don't see a lot of crazy stuff going on. Everybody's pretty chill and respectful. It’s a pretty cool vibe. I like it. The food's great. People appreciate people's company. Sit down, have lunch and dinner, people appreciate your time. The culture is transformative and it's had an impact on me. That’s carried on into my career of working with the team.

I'm calmer when I play on the ice. I'm the same guy. I'm pretty competitive but when I'm off the ice I'm a whole different person and I feel like I'm a lot less stressful and handle things a little bit differently and see things clearer. It's been a great job opportunity. I can't wait to see what we can do. I've been watching the [Para Ice Hockey] World Championships A-Pool (top level) and I’ve got a few new ideas. It’s good to see some other programs stepping up and hopefully we can do the same with the Japanese program to help these guys see some of their dreams come true and be in the A-Pool. Maybe even get a medal around their neck someday.

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