After playing 659 NHL games and earning millions of dollars playing hockey, former Canucks defenceman Brent Sopel is going back to school.
Sopel, now 39 years-old, was drafted by Pat Quinn in 1995 and played parts of seven seasons with the Canucks.
Through it all, he battled with dyslexia and dysgraphia – making B’s and D’s backwards, and flip-flopping other letters.
Sopel recently shared his story with Justin Breen of DNA Info in Chicago (check it out, it’s worth a read).
“I hope that my story might help just one person to feel not alone,” Sopel wrote on his Instagram account. “There’s help out there no matter what age.”
Playing pro hockey until age 38, Sopel was able to avoid facing his fears for most of his life.
“It really affects your approach to life when you live in fear,” Sopel told Jane Wallace of the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity. “You are always guarded, so you find ways to get around certain things. Of course, I was hiding it. To this day very few people know about my struggle. I didn’t know how to handle it. I have been guarding and blocking my whole life. Deflect and bridge, dodge and block.”
Now, as Sopel deals with life after hockey, he is facing his fear head-on, enrolling in a program with online school Ashworth College.
Sopel now lives in the Chicago area and has three kids. He told DNA Info that he used to make up children’s stories to tell his kids, thus avoiding having to read them books.
“My biggest fear is life after hockey,” Sopel said. “I struggled to learn to read. Some fans are insulted by my autograph because my writing is chicken scratch. They are like, ‘Is that the best you can do?’ I can speak to a crowd of ten thousand, but have challenges reading to a group of little kids…. The truth is due to my dyslexia and dysgraphia; I am better visually and verbally.
“For me, obviously I’m excited that I’m facing it, but in the same breath, I’m scared because it’s something I’ve dealt with my whole life,” he said. “I’m not in the position to jump into trying to get a bachelor’s degree yet. I’m not comfortable enough. I’ve got to face this fear little by little.”
Sopel was a key member of exciting Canucks teams in the early 2000s that were led by Markus Naslund and Todd Bertuzzi. Often paired with Mattias Ohlund, Sopel was counted on for offence (and great looking hair) by then head coach Marc Crawford. His best season came in 2003-04, when his 42 points (10-32-42) helped the Canucks win their first division title in 11 years.