From Michigan to California to Nanaimo and everywhere else in between, Brandon Laidlaw has proven successful.
His journey to pursue his dream of playing hockey began at the age of 13 where he left his home city of Pleasanton, California, and headed to Langley.
“My family moved to California from Detroit and my dad grew up playing hockey. He moved to work for General Motors in Fremont, which is a car manufacturer and I grew playing in the Junior Sharks program. As I got older and wanted a little bit more competition playing in the Team Northwest summer tournaments and different tournaments in BC, there was an opportunity at a young age to play junior hockey.”
“I moved up with Chris Clark, who is now the head coach of the Wenatchee Wild, and we moved to Langley to go to a school called Delphi Academy. We did it because we wanted to experience what it would be like to have the same amount of ice as our competition.”
Laidlaw admits while the southern boom of players from the United States wasn’t at the level it is now, players from California were making their mark – they just might not have been getting the abundance of chances you see today.
“California was growing and I think there were a lot of really talented players when Chris and I moved. We were living with the Hollweg family, Ryan played in the NHL with the New York Rangers and the Medicine Hat Tigers of the WHL, and his brother Bryce played in the BCHL and went to Army.”
Laidlaw grew up a Red Wings fan while living in the Motor City so finding players to look up to was pretty easy.
“My favorite player was Steve Yzerman, I loved the leadership qualities that he brought to the game. As I got older I began to like Bob Probert, Kelly Chase, and Brendan Shanahan. Shanahan was a physical player, but he was also a goal scorer – so guys that scored, played a gritty game (and) weren’t afraid to go in the corners were my kind of guys.”
From there, Laidlaw began his five-year BC Hockey League career with the Salmon Arm Silverbacks in 2001-02, where he amassed 15 goals and six assists to go along with 115 penalty minutes.
His gritty style continued into his sophomore season with the Silverbacks where he posted 18 points in 50 games, along with another 125 PIMs.
Glory years with the Clippers
Laidlaw’s luck continued to change for the better as he was dealt to the Nanaimo Clippers ahead of the 2003-04 BCHL season, suiting up for legendary coach Bill Bestwick in what would be a memorable three-year run.
“That first year in Nanaimo was special. First off, it was a great place to live, but we had a pretty unique team. I wouldn’t say we had the most talented team, but Bill was one of the best coaches ever and he really created a group of average hockey players and made them great. Bill found a way to bring out the best in everybody and I think what he did with our team that year was pretty special.”
During the regular season, the Clippers went 37-15-2-6 to finish second in the Island Division, three points back of the Cowichan Valley Capitals.
Up front, Nanaimo was led by a forward group that consisted of ex-WHL’er Tyson Mulock who went on to a lengthy pro career in Germany, followed by Blair Lefebvre, Michael Olson, Brandon Kushniruk, and Raymond Sawada.
Laidlaw says after a lengthy playoff run, it was extra sweet to capture the Fred Page Cup against the Silverbacks.
“Beating Salmon Arm in the BCHL finals was pretty special being traded from there, and sharing it with Chris Kestell, who was traded with me. So it was pretty cool.”
The playoff run that year actually got off to an infamous start, while playing the first-round series against Powell River.
“The ref called a penalty shot for us to win the series, but then they had to call everybody back to play the last minute and twenty seconds of the game. Then we won in overtime and that is what really fueled the fire for us to continue and win the next three rounds.”
From there, the Clippers dispatched the Grande Prairie Storm in five games to capture the Doyle Cup.
However, Nanaimo wouldn’t be so lucky during the Royal Bank Cup. The Clips went 1-3 and finished last in the round-robin.
In the final, the Aurora Tigers of the Ontario Junior Hockey League captured the glory and beat the Kindersley Klippers of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League by a 7-1 score.
During the 2004-05 season, Nanaimo seemed destined to repeat as Fred Page Cup champions. It steamrolled through the Island Division with a 48-9-3-0 record, 28 points ahead of the second-place Alberni Valley Bulldogs.
Laidlaw’s teammate and longtime NHLer Jason Garrison came into his own with 62 points that season.
However, the dream of going back-to-back stalled after running into the Surrey Eagles, who eventually became league champions.
“I think we were up 3-0 going into the semi-finals. We were very talented, we had great goaltending but in playoff hockey, it really does come down to the little bounces and we didn’t get those. I mean, that year we had an amazing team with a lot (who ended up) playing Division I hockey. “
In his final season with the Clippers, Laidlaw finished with a career-best 48 points in 59 games but again fell short in the post-season despite going 44-12-0-4 in the regular season.
Laidlaw said it was a privilege to play in front of a raucous crowd at the Frank Crane Arena.
“It was special. Bill Bestwick created that culture and community. It was special to play in a sold-out arena every night, it was special to walk around town and be involved in the community. We spent a lot of effort giving time back to those who needed help. It was a junior team that everyone wanted to play for, you were treated the best and got more than everybody else, but you also had to perform (and) at the end of the day, you got rewarded.”
“We were definitely the guys in town that everybody wanted to hang out with. We were winning, so people acknowledge that, but the respect people showed us was amazing everywhere we went, they were gracious to have us.”
When you are at the top of the mountain like the Clippers were, often times there is a target on your back and you get your opponent’s best game on a nightly basis.
Laidlaw believes that kind of pressure brought out the best in them.
“That was embedded into us the moment we became Clippers, following Bill’s lead. He basically built something that he knew was special and was capable of building that empire. Every guy in that room knew who they were, but the confidence we had in our dressing (room) was cherished and there was a positive cockiness to us, we enjoyed it.”
The Californian acknowledged while he had some offensive pop in his game, playing with an edge is something he had a passion for.
“I fought my way into the league. I could always score, but I loved the physical part of hockey, maybe a little too much, and I am sure Bill could attest to that. One thing about me was that the physical part of hockey allowed my endorphins to pump and I was very loyal to the guys who shared the dressing room with me. At the end of the day, if you were an alright player that could be physical, you could survive in many leagues.”
“The joy of how hockey used to be played was fun.”
On to Utica
Like many BCHL graduates, Laidlaw found himself playing NCAA hockey after aging out. He wound up skating for a small Division III school named Utica College.
While he only played in one season, he found some on-ice success and notched 16 points in 21 games.
But it was on-campus where his business acumen started to thrive.
“I played for Gary Heenan and it was just an amazing experience. I actually went up there due to someone I knew during the Delphi days. His name was Bryce Dale, who also played in the BCHL.”
“I had a lot of respect for Bryce and we had sold-out every night playing in front of 35-hundred people in the Utica Auditorium. It was a great culture with a small school and I was fortunate enough to meet my business partner who is still with me to this day.”
“At a young age, I was able to start a very successful business and it all came together (because of) my hockey career and today I am pretty happy to be married with three children, so it’s very incredible.”
Laidlaw says the life he has now pretty much all started at a birthday party.
“I met my friend’s neighbor, who lives in this 10-thousand square foot home by himself and was a successful businessman. When I met him, I was certainly intrigued by who he was and what he was doing and I wanted that life. At the age of 21, seeing this opportunity in front of my eyes of wild success – I come from a blue-collar family where my dad worked in car plants where it was a little different life than driving into a neighborhood of 20-or-30 thousand square foot homes and everyone having a Ferrari on their driveway.”
“I met Joe Lahey, who was the first investor of the company I am the chairman and CEO of now, and he really gave me the reins of running a business. I came in as one of the partners and worked my way up.”
Medea Medical Products is the second-largest FEMA government contractor for N-95 masks in California. It works with many state governments and professional athletes. Many of those athletes have invested in the company like former Clippers blueliner Matt Irwin, Nashville Predators all-star Roman Josi, and basketball great Shaquille O’Neal just to name a few.
Medea is also in the wine and spirits business, where its vodka and its patented LED programmable bottle have received high-esteem. The COVID-19 pandemic has been hectic for Laidlaw, to say the least.
“We are working 18-hour days, seven days a week, and for us, it’s about making sure we can provide this much-needed equipment not just to the American people, but (also) those in Canada.”
“We have delivered millions of masks to Canadian businesses and entities as well. We have a lot of Canadians in our company like Matt and Kelly Chase. As we speak today, California is under a stay-at-home order so it’s a difficult time right now for a lot of people.”