Walker Hyland traveled to Canada to play junior hockey, but the experience was therapeutic on the heels of his brother’s death last fall. Photo by Bill Hyland
Words can't explain the sadness of losing a family member, especially one as young as Braedon Hyland of East Ridge High School, who died in October from injuries suffered in a car accident.
"As a family, we just try to get through every day," his father, Bill Hyland, said.
As friends and former teammates come together Monday to honor Braedon in a memorial golf tournament at StoneRidge Golf Course in Stillwater, mom and dad are happy to have Braedon's older brother Walker back at home, if at least for the summer.
After graduating from East Ridge in 2011, Walker left to play junior hockey for the Alberni Valley Bulldogs of the British Columbia Hockey League this past season.
He didn't want to lose his love for the game.
"That's the one thing I didn't want to happen," Walker said. "Ever since [Braedon's passing], I heard stories where kids quit, stay at home or lose interest in the game after something like that. And I've told this to a lot of people: I just use it to motivate me in a positive way."
He knew it would be hard for his parents to be away from home during those tough times. But the change of scenery and grueling hockey schedule turned out to be exactly what the budding defenseman needed.
"It was definitely an escape," Walker said. "I had a really good billet family. They helped me a lot to get through it. It was good to be away from Minnesota and Woodbury and seeing things that I wouldn't see normally every day."
Walker lived in Port Alberni on beautiful Vancouver Island, where his team would often travel to away games by ferry. Mountainous views and coastline "looked like it came right out of a postcard," said Bill Hyland, who visited and saw a few of his son's games.
While the experience proved therapeutic in some ways, it also helped elevate his hockey career. Several Division I college programs already were watching Walker before his brother's death.
"Mentally, I think a lot of people were looking at him to see how he was going to hold up, going up to juniors and playing again after what happened with Braedon," his father said. "He did nothing but use that. He went up there and just lit it up."
Walker posted 14 goals and 30 assists in 53 games as a defenseman for Alberni Valley this past season. He saw ice time right away in all situations and also was named an assistant captain. When his game elevated, Michigan Tech made him an offer.
Walker's goal wasn't just to play Division I hockey. He wanted to play in the WCHA, where Michigan Tech will continue to play for the foreseeable future. Walker will have to battle for a spot on a crowded blue line, and that's what he's looking forward to.
The defenseman has been working out every morning with FHIT (Flexx Hockey Institute of Training) at the St. Thomas Ice Arena, sometimes with the likes of NHL players Justin Faulk and J.T. Brown.
After working out and playing hockey, Walker heads down the street and goes to work for his dad in the warehouse. And on Monday, they'll be "blown away" by the community's support during their golf tournament. It's envisioned as an annual event to help raise money for the Braedon Hyland Hockey Foundation, which will provide hockey scholarships for those less financially fortunate.
Although he lost his brother, he won't lose his memories of him. He also won't lose the game they both loved.
"Before the game, obviously I never stop thinking about my brother," Walker said. "I use it as motivation and it's helped me out."