Zach McPhee is not your typical hockey journeyman.
Sure, he has a similar hockey story to numerous other Canadians, playing the sport through the junior and university ranks, but the 29-year-old Vernon resident is now an official country singer, after releasing his debut single, Bring On, to streaming platforms in January.
It has been a circuitous route to get there, but one that McPhee is thankful for.
“It was a long time coming,” McPhee told the Vernon Morning Star. “But with committing to music, and the support of my family, I am just super happy to have finally released it.”
McPhee was born and raised in Vernon, and was playing high performance hockey virtually since he could walk. His hockey journey took him across Canada and the U.S., beginning with 24 games with the hometown Vernon Vipers in 2010-11.
The 6-foot-three-inch tall right winger then had spells in the WHL with the Tri-City Americans, Everett Silvertips and Kootenay Ice, before competing for the University of Regina for five seasons.
Upon the ending of his university career, McPhee had the opportunity to play professionally in Sweden.
“The contract was sealed and done, but I took a step back and realized that I had been away from home since the age of 16 and I just wanted to get closer to family,” he said. “My dad at the time had gone through some medical stuff. As much as I would have loved to play hockey, the choice of me to come back has been great.”
A quick YouTube search of his name brings up two dichotic themes, crooning acoustic music and brutal hockey fights.
“Being in an environment of hockey where it is such a high-paced, intense sport, playing the guitar and singing was something that really helped me through the highs and lows of sport,” he said. “It was a good escape when I wasn’t at the arena.”
His path to becoming a musician started unconventionally.
“I grew up with a speech impediment, due to a stutter,” McPhee explained. “ One of the techniques that my speech therapist used was to get me to sing the words if I was having a problem pronouncing certain vowels or consonants. It was a therapy tool for me to not have that stress of getting stuck on my words.”
His family was musically inclined as well, with mom in choir and dad and brother becoming guitar players. At the age of 13, McPhee picked up a guitar and instantly found a connection.
It wasn’t until his late teen years, when he was playing for the WHL’s Kootenay Ice, that his musical career began to pick up steam.
“Me and a couple of the guys on the team, we were just hanging out and one had a guitar and I ended up picking it up and just playing and singing. Then, they were like, ‘Man, why are you playing hockey? You should start taking music more seriously, you have a great talent.’”
That talent caught the attention of Canadian country music legend Aaron Pritchett, who reached out to McPhee to tell him about his potential and that he could take it somewhere.
His music grabbed traction in 2019, after submitting himself to the Denim on the Diamond talent search.
“It was for any artist in Western Canada, and so I submitted a song and they picked the top five, and then the top five went to a public vote to decide on the top 3.”
McPhee made the top five, after submitting the song, American Man, and then the top 3.
“I didn’t end up winning the competition, but it was a good stepping stone for me to realize the public appreciating the music and sound that I was starting to do.”
When the pandemic hit, McPhee wasn’t able to perform live, but was able to stock up a Rolodex of tunes, which he parlayed into a deal with producers from Vancouver.
Now, he is finally ready to go big, with his first single hitting 100,000 streams in a month, “which is super cool.”
A six song EP is scheduled to be released by the end of summer.
“My next single, Denver, will be released March 3, then another single for sure before the EP.”
His sound combines whiffs of folk and country, through acoustic guitar.
“I always appreciated the storytelling aspect of what country music brings. I really enjoy the grassroots country folk style,” he said. “I always loved creating music and I just want to keep doing that and I hope that other people can relate to it too.”