Just before the 2017 Isobel Cup playoffs began, Harrison Browne announced that he was retiring after the season to make his physical transition over the summer. He had just made history by playing a season of professional women’s hockey as a transgendered man. Just one week after announcing his pending retirement, Browne lifted the Isobel Cup with the Buffalo Beauts after upsetting the Boston Pride. It seemed like the perfect ending to a groundbreaking and historic season.
But Browne changed his mind over the summer. And Monday he signed a one-year contract to join the New York Riveters for his third season in the National Women’s Hockey League. The decision to postpone his physical transition was not one that the winger took lightly.
“It was after I retired and after I had let it all sink in, it was about the time when surgery was (approaching),” Browne told FanRag Sports. “I was having some second thoughts. And I thought that those second thoughts were there for a reason. So I decided to take a step back and think about playing again and talk with people and the league. Everything (after that) seemed to kind of fall into place.”
On his YouTube channel, Browne explained that the prospect of a two-month recovery period from top surgery wasn’t what he wanted to do. He canceled the surgery to prepare for the upcoming season because he believes he still has more to give.
This summer in Ontario, Browne spent time on the ice with Riveters general manager and head coach Chad Wiseman, who coached Harrison at the 2017 All-Star Game in Pittsburgh. And Browne admits that Wiseman being behind the bench in Newark was a factor in signing with the Riveters.
“He made the environment light and fun (at the All-Star Game),” Browne shared. “I’ve heard great things from all the Riveters about him and he’s definitely one of the reasons why I chose to go to the Riveters. But we really didn’t discuss me coming back. It was really nice to play with him during the summer and get to know his coaching style. And he got to know my (style of) play.”
Browne believes he has a chance to play a bigger role with the Riveters. He also believes he has more to give on the offensive side of the puck. Wiseman agrees with him. The Riveters certainly could use more offense in the lineup after losing Janine Weber to the Boston Pride in free agency.
This will be Harrison Browne's first NWHL All-Star game. He has 3 points in 9 GP this season and is one of just 6 players with a shortie. pic.twitter.com/rBrsuddrO6
— Mike Murphy (@DigDeepBSB) January 4, 2017
“I think last season was definitely a lull,” Browne admitted while talking about the drop in his production. “My first season went great offensively, I had a lot of points and I was pretty proud of the way that I played. But I’m hungry this year to get that back — to get my points and scoring back up. I’ve been working a lot with Chad on quick releases, passing and getting open.”
It’s important to note that Wiseman had success bringing out Tatiana Rafter’s offense last season. Rafter and Browne were teammates on the Beauts inaugural roster. And on paper, Browne seems like a perfect fit for Wiseman’s preferred style of hockey. He works hard in all three zones, kills penalties and knows how to get under the skin of his opponents.
Off the ice, Browne will continue his YouTube channel. He believes it is the best way for him to tell his story the way that he wants to tell it.
“I pick my topics based on things that I wanted to see when I was growing up,” Browne explained. “Because growing up, I watched a lot of YouTube channels, a lot of ESPN trans videos and people talking about their experiences and different mindsets. So I think it’s good to put out some different topics: to talk about hockey, talk about dating, talk about physical changes and talk about my mindset and how I deal with certain situations that are prevalent in the LGBTQ community. I think it’s going great.”
Last season, Browne used his channel and social media to speak openly about life as a trans man as a professional athlete. But next season, he wants to make a bigger impact. Browne intends to connect with more people face to face and host members of LGBTQ organizations at Riveters home games. He also wants to be as visible as he can be to LGBTQ youth who see him as a positive role model.
Browne’s return to the NWHL was unexpected, but it is far from unwelcome. He is one of the league’s most popular players. Browne’s advocacy for LGBTQ rights is a welcome presence in the women’s hockey community.
And, of course, it doesn’t hurt that he’s an exceptional two-way winger and one of the most dangerous penalty killers in the NWHL’s brief history.