Q&A with Former Whitby, Ontario Minor Hockey Player Dan Nichols

contributed by Ruth Walker (Whitby, ON)

When did you start playing hockey?
I started playing hockey when I was six-years old. I attended various hockey camps and played my first year of organized hockey when I was seven playing house league in Scarborough.

What path did you follow to get where you are today?
After playing house league for two years, I started playing rep for the Whitby Minor Hockey Association. I played single A for two years before moving up to play triple A for Whitby for another six years until my draft year at age 15. At this point I was forced with a major decision on where wanted to go with my hockey career: I had the choice to play Major Jr. hockey for the Oshawa Generals (OHL), or to play Provincial Jr. hockey, in hopes to eventually play college hockey in the U.S. on a scholarship.

I decided I wanted to go the scholarship route and played in the Ontario Provincial Jr. Hockey League for the Bowmanville Eagles. After three years of Jr. hockey, I was recruited by Cornell University to play Division 1 hockey for their program which is where I am currently playing now.

When did you know it was going to be more than recreation? How did you know it?
I first realized hockey was going to be much more than recreation mid way through my last year of minor hockey. It was at that point that many OHL and Jr. teams started to approach me talk about hockey as a career. I was then starting to realize that hockey could be used as a tool to help get me where I wanted to go as far a career was concerned. It then became much more than just a game.

Where are you playing hockey now?
I am now playing NCAA Division 1 hockey for Cornell University which is located in upstate New York.

What about coaching? Many sports offer junior participants the chance to assist coach, referee, and sometimes work in the administration end—marketing and assist/managing teams—as well as helping out at hockey clinics, etc.

After my playing days are over I would love to be able to stay involved in the game. I don’t really see myself behind the desk in a sports organization but certainly would love coach or maybe even scout someday in the future.

Did/do you do any of those other jobs?
Throughout high school I worked as a referee. I worked part time, working mostly with women’s minor hockey. Over the years I have also run many hockey clinics and continue to do so for Cornell during the summer months.

How will they help you in the future?
Doing jobs such as these are not only rewarding on their own but also help to get recognized in the hockey world and allow you to meet tons of new people. The social networks that are built through hockey, whether it is through playing or just being involved in the game gives you a tremendous advantage later on down the road.

If you had a daughter or son who wanted to play hockey, what advice would you offer her or him?
If I had a son or daughter that wanted to play hockey I would certainly support their participation. Sports have benefited me so much I would most certainly encourage them to get involved in as much activities as possible, whether it is hockey or any other activity. The only advice I would have is to make sure it stayed fun. No matter what level, or how competitive, as soon as the game no is fun then it is time to retire. I would never want to push my kid into something they themselves didn’t want to be involved in. I have seen many parents push their kids too far over the years and have had many friends stop playing because of it.

Would you ever like to teach hockey?
One day when my kids are playing hockey I would love to get involved in their sports by coaching. Other than that, I don’t really see myself teaching hockey at any competitive level.

How do you think playing this sport has been good for your future?
Hockey has been good for my future as it has helped me get accepted into an Ivy League school in the U.S. where I can attain a great degree, which provides great career opportunities. At the same time, I am able to continue to play hockey at a high level where there is still the possibility of pursuing a career in professional hockey. Last and most importantly, the people I have met through hockey and school greatly benefit my future. I have met teammates, friends, families, and alumni from all over the country. The social capital coming out of school is so large that it provides so many advantages that can be very beneficial later on.

How do you think playing this sport did not help your future?
The one way that playing hockey did not help my future is that it limited me in things I could do outside of sports. It always took up the majority of my time and stopped me from getting involved in other things. As much as hockey has helped me, it stopped me from exploring some of my other interests which I might regret not doing later on in life.

Who is your hockey role model?
My hockey role Model is Joe Nieuwendyke. He is a leader on and off the ice. On the ice he is a complete player as he is able to contribute not only on the score sheet, but also as a leader. His teammates look up to him as a captain and throughout his long successful career in the NHL, he has lead many great teams to victory. Most importantly, his exceptional character is a big reason for his success. Joe is from my home town, as well as a former Cornell player, and everyone I talk to who knows him has nothing but good things to say.

Who is you non-hockey role model?
Ken Scott has always been my non-hockey role model. He is a former teacher of mine and has had an extremely positive influence on my life. He not only taught me in the classroom but also many life lessons as well. He is a very positive man and is always able to motivate me and keep me headed in the right direction. He is very inspirational and is very well respected by the entire community.

Can you tell me a bit about your family, where you grew up?
I spent my entire childhood in Whitby, Ontario. I have an older sister Leanne who is four years older than me and is currently a high school teacher in England. My younger sister Erin is three years younger and is currently finishing her last year of high school back home in Whitby. My father, Steve, is a firefighter in Toronto and currently lives in Ajax, while my mother Karen is a high school teacher and is still living in Whitby.

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