Raise your hand if you’ve ever been in this scenario. Your brand new soon-to-be hockey playing child needs a hockey stick but you have no idea if your darling is a left-handed shot or a right-handed shot. It’s his or her first ice session and you have everything except for the stick. Never mind the choices like flex, and the material choice of composite vs wood. The most immediate choice is left or right. You can do what I did and just find a straight blade for your hockey newbie and it makes sense to do that if you aren’t sure. You may not find one or you want your cub to be ready to go with the correct blade from day 1. So what do you choose? How can left or right be so difficult?
The first thing to ask about your child is, ‘what is their dominant hand?’ If, for example, you feel like their most dominant hand is right you probably should choose a left-handed stick. If the dominant hand is at the top of the stick it will do most of the controlling of the stick when stickhandling. Hockey players spend far more time stickhandling than they do shooting so having their dominant hand at the top of the stick makes a lot of sense. While most Canadians are right hand dominant most Canadian hockey players shoot left.
Some people will put their dominant hand lower on the shaft of the stick because they feel it makes them stronger. This is true, but it will sacrifice their ability to stickhandle - especially early in their hockey years. Most Americans are right hand dominant, but they shoot right handed. This is not a strategic choice, but one made because hockey isn’t the first sport for most Americans. Baseball has this distinction and when a batter steps into the batter’s box to face the pitcher he or she usually has their dominant hand on top of their less dominant hand to swing the bat. When they switch to hockey this puts their right hand lower on the shaft. For this reason most Americans shoot right-handed in hockey.
The final choice will be with your young one. As long as they choose a way to shoot and carry their stick around properly on and off the ice, and play with the puck or ball they will learn to stickhandle and shoot no matter which hand they put on top of the stick. The important decision is the first one. Pick it and stick with it – pun intended.
First off, that’s not true. But this is an exercise in a couple “what ifs”. There really is no chance of Halifax being awarded a National Hockey League team in the near future, or any city in Atlantic Canada for that matter. There are many reasons, which I won’t get in to in this blog. With teams being assembled and playing for the World Cup of hockey let’s piece together our own team. An expansion draft wouldn’t be exciting to do so let’s go back to very old NHL roster rules where players could draft from within their own boundary and have exclusive rights to these players before any other team tries to capture them. This is how the Montreal Canadians and Toronto Maple Leafs won nearly 40 Stanley Cups between them. Quebec and Ontario produce a lot of hockey stars.
Let’s set our boundary as all of Atlantic Canada to see what this fictional Halifax NHL team might look like, under old rules. As you can imagine it’s full of high-end talent such as Sidney Crosby, Nathan MacKinnon and Brad Marchand. The rest of the roster might be hard to come up with off the top of your head, so I did the work for you. Here are the 2017-2018 NHL Halifax _____ (Explosion? Highlanders? Sailors? Voyagers? Citadels?):
Brad Marchand (NS), Sidney Crosby (NS), Teddy Purcell (NFLD)
Colin Greening (NFLD), Nathan MacKinnon (NS), James Sheppard (NS)
Alex Killorn (NS), Brad Richards (PEI), Logan Shaw (NS)
Brad Malone (NB), Steve Ott (PEI), Daniel Cleary (NFLD)
Luke Adam (NFLD), Eric Boulton (NS), Zach Sill (NS)
Brandon Gormley (PEI), Andrew MacDonald (NS)
Aaron Johnson (NS), Adam Pardy (NFLD)
Randy Jones (NS), Adam McQuaid (PEI)
Mark Flood (PEI), Ryan Graves (NS)
Jake Allen (NB), Calvin Pickard (NB), Joey MacDonald (NS)
The forwards are quite respectable with some dynamic NHL talent, youth, veterans and some role players mixed in. A few retired guys like Michael Ryder and Ryane Clowe could have been added to beef up the forwards, but overall this looks reasonable up front.
The defencemen could use some retired players too. Actually bringing Don Sweeney, Al Macinnis and Colin White out of retirement is advisable. Sure the 8 D who are listed are fair professional hockey players but they would make the Edmonton Oilers’ defence look like perennial all-stars. There’s not one defenceman with experience as an NHL top 2 D pair.
The goaltending with Allen, Pickard and MacDonald is respectable as long as Allen plays well and stays healthy. The 3 goalies barely have 200 NHL games between them but that’s a problem NHL general managers and coaches have been faced with many times in the past.
Did I miss anyone? If I did miss a player please add them to the comments at the bottom. What record would this team have? Where would they finish in the NHL Northeast division? What trades would you make to improve the defence and other areas? If anyone assembles this team in NHL 17 let me know. I’d love to know how it does.
“When he was a kid, he'd be up at five
Take shots till eight, make the thing drive
Out after school, back on ice
That was his life, he was gonna play in the big league”
If you’re a Canadian boy who has ever played with a hockey stick you can probably relate to the above song lyrics by Tom Cochrane and Red Rider. I’m one of the millions of Canadians to have dreamed of playing in the NHL. I’m a good player. I’ve been the best on my team several times and won many awards. The honest truth is though; I’ve never been close to making the big league. I can give plenty of excuses such as my knees are bad, I’m too small, and I didn’t train hard enough, etc. The truth is I was always a long shot to play in the NHL. Another truth is you probably are too (and despite the many benefits of hockey for you or your child the dream of playing in the NHL is out of reach.)
In the book Selling the Dream by Ken Campbell the author shows how only 1 in 2,500 players will ever have a career making a living in the National Hockey League. A career is defined as 400 games or more in the league. Given that there are about 15,000 boys playing hockey in Nova Scotia from the Initiation Program (Tim Bits) to Midget this means only 6 players in the current group of members will earn a regular NHL paycheque. To further explain it you have to be, on average, the very best in Nova Scotia in your age group. This means that from the current NS atom players, there will be (on average) only one make it as a career NHLer. This is the same for each division.
Is your son (or daughter, to be fair) the best player in the province in his her division? If so, they have a chance to make it. If they will only ever be the 10th best, the odds are not in their favor at all. In Nova Scotia the math is simple. You have to be the best in the province to make it to the NHL.
These statistics aren’t a condemnation of Hockey Nova Scotia’s development programs or initiatives. The programs are fantastic and the people running them are leaders in the country. Nova Scotia players are fortunate to have an array of talented coaches and leaders throughout their hockey playing years. The statistics I mentioned are simply about the population of the membership. In the Ontario Minor Hockey Association, the largest MHA in the world, there are about 250,000 players – almost 20x the size of NS. While Nova Scotia may send one atom player to a regular NHL career, the OMHA may send 20; simply because of the population.
If you’re the second best player in the your division in Nova Scotia (on average) you may still make it, but you’ll most likely be a part-time NHLer, playing mainly in the 2nd or 3rd tier minor leagues (in the American Hockey League, ECHL or Kontinental Hockey League). These leagues are made up of fantastic hockey players – being the 2nd best out of a group of 2,500 is a phenomenal achievement!
If you’re the best in your division in NS you may make $1,000,000 or more per year. If you’re the second best you may play in the American Hockey League where the minimum salary is about $45,000 per year. There is no maximum salary but few players make more than $100,000 in that league. If you’re the 3rd best or 4th best in Nova Scotia perhaps you’ll make it to the ECHL where the minimum salary is about $500 per week.
The top 5 players in NS in any division will indeed be incredibly talented. The difference is the top player may make millions and have an NHL career and the 5th best could possibly be playing university hockey, which is great, but not quite the big league.
According to the math from Selling the Dream author Ken Campbell (1 in 2,500 have an NHL career) there should be about 9 full-time NHLers from Nova Scotia and about 9 Bluenosers who are close (or have played a few hundred games at best). When I looked at current NHL, AHL, KHL, and ECHL rosters I indeed found 18 players from Nova Scotia in these leagues. Here is the list of Nova Scotia’s best players:
NHL Players Year of Birth Hometown NHL games
Nathan MacKinnon 1995 Cole Harbour 218
Brad Marchand 1988 Hammonds Plains 454
Alex Killorn 1989 Halifax 272
Eric Boulton 1976 Halifax 654
Sidney Crosby 1987 Cole Harbour 707
AHL and ECHL Players Year of Birth Hometown NHL games
Ryan Penny 1994 Fall River 0
Shawn O’Donnell 1988 Halifax 0
Ryan Graves 1995 Yarmouth 0
Zach Sill 1988 Brookfield 93
Liam O’Brien 1994 Halifax 13
Andrew MacDonald 1986 Judique 400
Brandon Whitney 1994 Kentville 0
Jack Flinn 1995 Halifax 0
Logan Shaw 1992 Glace Bay 53
Alex Grant 1989 Antigonish 7
Mike Kirkpatrick 1990 North Sydney 0
Aaron Johnson 1983 Port Hawksbury 291
Patrick Gouthro 1981 North Sydney 0
David Ling 1975 Halifax 93
Nick MacNeil 1989 Creignish 0
Players in Europe Year of Birth Hometown NHL games
James Sheppard 1988 Halifax 394
Joey MacDonald 1980 Pictou 133
This list doesn’t include retired players but it’s important to acknowledge the accomplishments of a few other Nova Scotians who made it in the big league and had long careers. These are the 5 Nova Scotians who have played the most games in the National Hockey League:
Retired NHL Nova Scotians NHL games
Al Macinnis 1,416
Bobby Smith 1,077
Glen Murray 1,009
Colin White 797
Mike McPhee 744
I didn’t grow up in Nova Scotia or Ontario, but the location of my hockey development doesn`t really matter. To have an NHL career I had to be the #1 player in a group of 2,500 players of my own age. I have no idea where I ranked but if I had been #300 could I have moved up to #5 or #1? It’s doubtful in my case. But what I do know is that playing hockey was fun, the joy of my life and I loved getting better at it with hard work and equal competition. It taught me sportsmanship, how to take care of my body, gave me more self-confidence, and developed my physical literacy skills. Hockey develops people – and that`s true for every player no matter their skill level.
Nowadays I may not be in the NHL, but I love helping players accomplish their dream – whether it’s becoming # 1 in their division or learning to skate backwards. Everyone has a dream and they are healthy. As coaches and parents our role is to keep our own dreams in perspective and listen to our children. If they want to get up at 5am to shoot pucks because it’s fun for them so be it. It’s their dream. Be realistic in your NHL dream for your kids. Ask yourself, can my child actually become the best at their age group in Nova Scotia – and do they want to be?