“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?