From Fort St. James to Germany, the game of hockey literally took Bryan Adams around the world.
It all started in the 1993-94 season in the Rocky Mountain Junior Hockey League, suiting up for one of the teams he grew up watching, the Prince George Spruce Kings.
That year, the Spruce Kings finished first in the regular season with a mark of 36-14-2. Adams admits it didn’t take long to realize the step he was taking in his hockey career.
“The first thing I remember is making that commitment to play for them and then just packing my truck (with) what little belongings I had as a 17-year-old from Fort St. James and going to Prince George.”
“When you are young, you don’t really grasp the concept of what is going on and moving in with some billets. I don’t think it took me too long, but I remember pulling up to their house and the rest is kind of history.”
As a wide-eyed rookie, Adams quickly took note of the long road trips the Spruce Kings took.
“I remember going to Cranbrook or Creston and the road trips were long and I remember the snowstorms we used to plow through. Even going up to Fort St. John (to play the Huskies), they had real tough teams back then. It was a battle but it was the first group of players I remember playing with.”
Some of the teammates who still come to mind for Adams are Don Campbell and Davey Jones, to name a couple. In his rookie season, Adams enjoyed offensive success right off the bat by tallying 21 goals and 23 assists in 49 games.
“I have to attribute that (breakout) to my coaches growing up. I kind of laugh now as I am living in Michigan where a lot of the teams are much larger and we have a lot of kids who come to tryouts.”
“But in Fort St. James, whoever showed up we took on our team and we were fortunate to have a good core group of guys. We were a single-A team playing against triple-A teams. So I built a lot of confidence growing playing against better competition.”
However, the Spruce Kings came up short in the playoffs against Fort St. John dropping the best-of-seven semifinal series 4-2. The tough and rumble brand of hockey the Huskies used to play still sticks out to Adams to this day.
“I remember sitting there at one of the games and as soon as the puck dropped at centre ice all the gloves came off and I don’t know who grabbed me but he was a tough son of a gun and he beat the pulp out of me. I remember Donnie Campbell was already in the dressing room and he asked me what happened.”
“I remember the bus trip home and feeling really beat up. I finally got in my bed and looked at my face just kind of tossing blood. They had a really big tough team and every time you went to play them it was always a battle.”
Kings on the ice
In 1994-95, PG went 41-9-2 and once again clinched first place in the RMJHL. For his part, Adams recorded 37 goals and 50 assists in 48 games.
“We had a lot of guys who could put the puck in the net. Sometimes that doesn’t always matter, but what does matter is when you have guys who work together and you are able to score and defend. We had good goaltending as well and I remember it being just an all-around kind of team. (General manager and head coach) Len McNamara brought in guys from all over to make it work.”
However, the Spruce Kings suffered more heartbreak by losing the league final in six games against the Cranbrook Colts.
“We had such a good thing going and then you run into a team equally as good. They were kind of the first team that we really ran up against that could keep up and score more than us. They were good and they got the better of us.”
Starring with the Spartans
After finishing up with the Spruce Kings, Adams spent four solid seasons with the Michigan State University Spartans playing for legendary coach Ron Mason.
Michigan State fell in the conference semi-final to their arch-rival Michigan Wolverines and then dropped the regional quarterfinal against UMass-Lowell at the Nationals.
“My eyes were big, I will put it that way. But I got my feet underneath me and played with some really good players and it was the best decision I ever made to come to Michigan State.”
“When it is time to play (University of) Michigan, it doesn’t matter what else is going on, you want to win and do everything it takes to win at all costs. All throughout the 90s, the (Wolverines) had really good teams featuring Brendan Morrison and Bill Muckalt. I remember that being some really good hockey and if we won that was pure excitement.”
In 1996-97, the Spartans added future NHLer and BCHL alumnus Shawn Horcoff to the fold and went 16-7-4 only to lose in the CCHA Final to the Wolverines. Michigan State then fell to the Minnesota Golden Gophers 6-3 in the Regional Quarters of the National tournament.
The offensive numbers started to peak for Adams in his third season as he collected 30 points in 31 games. In 1997-98, the Spartans finally climbed the top of the mountain and claimed a league title by ousting Ohio State 3-2 in double overtime.
From there, Michigan State took another step forward at Nationals but lost 4-3 in overtime to the Buckeyes.
In his last hurrah at the collegiate level, Adams was linemates with York and freshman Adam Hall, who played 682 games for a number of NHL teams. Adams completed the season with 37 points in 42 games.
As an undrafted player, Adams had the opportunity to choose where his professional career would begin. The Fort St. James product ultimately signed with the Atlanta Thrashers in 1999. He played in two games with the Thrashers in 1999-2000, but spent most of his rookie season in the International Hockey League with the Orlando Solar Bears.
“I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into. I had a pretty good senior year in college so I made the decision purely that (Atlanta) was an expansion team. I thought it would give me the best chance at success to go to a new team that was building from the ground up.”
“I also had the chance to sign with Montreal and that was tough for me because my dad is a huge Canadiens fan. I was torn about where I wanted to go. (But) it was nice because in the back of my mind If I didn’t make (the Thrashers) right away, playing in Orlando wasn’t a terrible spot.”
Adams tallied 34 points in 64 games as a rookie for the Solar Bears. He is quick to point out the lifestyle of an IHL player was actually somewhat similar to the NHL based on travel.
“Most of the places we flew to (because) our closest game was Houston. We were flying everywhere, which was very nice. You are in the minors but you almost feel spoiled because you had it pretty good.”
In his second pro season, Adams suited in nine games for the Thrashers before getting sent back to Orlando where he claimed a Turner Cup title.
“Things went alright with Atlanta. Looking back at things, you wish you could have done a little better, but it is what it is. I then went back to a team I was really comfortable with and we had all the pieces to the puzzle to be successful.”
The Solar Bears were stacked with a bunch of players who went on to have either full-time NHL careers or journeymen tenures in the professional ranks such as Norm Maracle, Mike Weaver, Brett Clark, Jean-Pierre Vigier, Brian Pothier, and Jarrod Skalde.
Dances with Wolves and Griffins
Adams collected his second championship in as many seasons in 2001-02. Only this time it was as a member of the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League.
“It was kind of weird in the fact that you go from winning a championship in one city and then the team folds and you move to Chicago and end up winning the championship there.”
“It was a tough year for me personally as I broke my foot in training camp and didn’t end up playing for the first little while. Then the team gets going, so you have to find your way into the lineup. I didn’t play with Hall of Famers, but I played with really good pros like Rob Brown and Steve Maltais.”
From there, Adams spent a year with the Grand Rapids Griffins and collected 25 points in 74 games while also lighting the lamp twice in 13 playoff contests.
A decade in Deutschland
Looking for a fresh start, Adams signed on with the Iserlohn Roosters of the Deutsche Eishockey Liga in 2003. He played in Iserlohn for three seasons, the last two as team captain.
“When I first went over there, it was guys who I had played against in the minors. I can’t remember the exact number of import players they were allowed, but it was pretty high. I went to school with Mike Ford and he was best buddies with Matt Higgins. It was pretty much like playing with an AHL team.”
“I was back to having fun and getting a lot of ice time.”
During the NHL lockout in 2004-05, Adams reunited with a couple of former Michigan Spartans in Mike York and John Micheal-Liles, who found their way to Iserlohn.
Adams went on to play for Kolner Haie of the DEL for four seasons, following head coach Doug Mason who he had a previous relationship with while in Iserlohn.
“That was a little bit of a factor but I also created my own success by having some decent years. It was a chance to move on to a bigger facility that rivaled any NHL team. The facility they had was fantastic.”
“That is a tough one to swallow. I remember losing to Berlin. I wish we could go back and do it again but man we had some battles and long overtime games. I think that season we played one of the longest games in history that included four overtimes,” added Adams.
He finished off his tenure in Germany with EHC München where he played for three seasons.
“I liked the game of hockey and I loved being down there but my body was getting pretty beat up towards the end, which is funny to say because I wake up now and I feel great. It was time to move on and let the other guys play.”
Adams suited up on four occasions for Canada while overseas playing in the Hungarian Cup and Deutschland Cup.
He now lives with his wife and family in East Lansing, Michigan where he sells knee and hip implants.