Before I Made It: Daniel Winnik

The Hockey News
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With Kevin Kennedy
My dad got me into hockey. He’s played his whole life and he still plays now. I still lean on him for advice and we talk after almost every game. My first hockey memories are from playing in the Mississauga minor hockey system and going on all those out-of-town tournaments, which is a highlight for most young hockey players.

As a teenager I did odd jobs here and there, but I worked pretty much every summer at a grocery store up in Muskoka, Ontario. I even worked through the summer after my first years in the AHL and the NHL. I had to go back to school to finish some classes so I picked up a job doing security at one of the local bars. I studied political science and I loved it and that’s probably why I’ve always been involved in the labor negotiations with the NHLPA.

Growing up, my bantam coach, Steve Cathcart, gave me a real chance with the Toronto Marlies by giving me tons of ice time, which helped get me to the next level. In college, my assistant coach, David Lassonde, had a huge impact on my game and he’s now an assistant coach for the 2014 U.S. National Junior Team. The only other player who made it to the NHL from that team is Trevor Smith, who’s now with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

I made the decision to go the college route in my bantam year and I let the OHL teams know my plan. My family was big on school and convinced me early on that it was the best way. My dad always told me that if you’re good enough, they’ll find you. And it’s true. My older brother also played hockey and we both ended up playing in the NCAA. He went to Ferris State University and I went to the University of New Hampshire.

I ended up getting drafted in the ninth round by the Phoenix Coyotes and signed after my sophomore season. Wayne Gretzky was the coach at the time and he came up to Craig Weller and I during the flight home from Colorado after the last pre-season game and told us we were going to be in the lineup on opening night. We were both long shots to make the team, so you can imagine how I felt after that conversation. It’s something I’ll never forget.