‘I’ve always dreamed of this’: Nunavut hockey player reflects on playing for the US team

Daniel McKitrick grew up playing hockey in Coral Harbour, Nunavut – an arctic community on the northern shore of Hudson’s Bay, where the average winter temperature is in the -20s C.

Now he trains just a stone’s throw from the Gulf of Mexico at the Mississippi Coast Coliseum and Convention Center, about a 10-minute drive from the beach. It’s almost always warm enough to take a dip.

“It’s hot here all the time, even in winter,” says 25-year-old McKitrick.

Earlier this year, he was signed to the Mississippi Sea Wolves in Biloxi, Mississippi, and has been playing for them since October. The team is part of the Federal Prospects Hockey League.

Although he says he has played in tournaments in the United States before, this year marks his first full season there.

MicKitrick has been training to join high level hockey from a young age. When he was in Grade 6, he moved to Thunder Bay, Ont., to pursue his love of the game.

A hockey player looks directly at the camera while handling the puck.
McKitrick, who currently plays for the Mississippi Sea Wolves, a hockey team based in Biloxi, Mississippi, says it’s been his dream to play in a professional league — and now he’s doing it. (Submitted by Daniel McKitrick)

While the move to Biloxi was a bit of an adjustment, hockey remains a constant feature wherever he ends up.

Everything is the same on the pitch, he says. “It’s a long way from home, but I have really good teammates here and the coaches and everyone involved make me feel at home … So it hasn’t been that hard at all.”

McKitrick says he lives with some of his teammates in an apartment.

So it’s a lot of fun, he says.

They practice a lot during the week and have games on the weekends — so far he’s already played in 15. He says he’s earned 12 points in those games; seven goals and five assists.

The games have also allowed him to travel, including going to New York a few times at the beginning of the year.

“There are a lot of fans”

McKitrick guesses he is the only — or at least among the rare — Inuk in Biloxi.

He says fans come to watch and support him and his teammates.

“We sign autographs and chat with them … they’re very excited to see hockey here again,” he says, referring to the COVID-19 shutdown.

But he says he often has to explain what and where exactly Nunavut is.

“In the beginning, a lot of the people here didn’t even know Nunavut existed,” says McKitrick.

“There’s a couple of fans who knew, and they came up to me and asked me about Nunavut. And what’s it like,” he says.

However, McKitrick doesn’t shy away from people’s questions. He says he enjoys talking to fans and he tells them about what’s going on in Coral Harbor and his stories about hunting and fishing.

McKitrick only gets four days off from hockey over Christmas, so he plans to stay in Biloxi over the holidays.

He says it’s been his dream since he was little to play in a professional league, and now he’s finally living it. An added bonus, he says, is the fact that he gets paid to do it.

“I always love hockey. Growing up, [it’s] everything I really wanted to do, and now I get to do it … it’s just been amazing,” says McKitrick.

“There’s a lot of fans out there. Like, I’ve always dreamed of this.”

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