The journey for many Ontarians across the 401 and into “la belle province”, is a daunting one. Leaving the comforts of home, just for a chance at living their dream of playing hockey at the next level, can be somewhat scary for a teenage hockey player.
These are the players who were seemingly rejected by their home province and left in the deep underbelly of tier two junior hockey. Scrambling to remember how to conjugate the “être” verb, because they think somehow it is going to be important. They are not the first players to brave this path and they will not be the last, as evident by the 33 Ontarians who are currently in the QMJHL.
Current Charlottetown Islander, Daniel Hardie, is one of those many players and has managed to find success in his first two seasons in the QMJHL. Hardie, a native of Georgetown, Ontario, went undrafted in both his years of OHL Draft eligibility. It is shocking to look at his numbers from his Minor Midget season with the Halton Hurricanes, and then to try and figure out what went wrong for him – he finished the season with 19 goals and 21 assists, in 40 games played.
Regardless of the reasoning, Hardie still remembers that feeling of disappointment on draft day. “I was pretty devastated on that day. Like I wasn’t sure what was next [for me],” he recalls. “I remember just going up to my room and I was really upset.”
And to get through all that disappointment, he had one person who encouraged him: his dad.
“My dad came up and he told me that this isn’t the only opportunity that you have, there are so many options,” remembers Hardie. “My dad really pushed me to come to the QMJHL after that, and I’m pretty happy with that decision!”
The QMJHL has had a long history of Ontario-born players who have either found success or turmoil. The most famous examples would be current Philadelphia Flyers captain Claude Giroux, and Paul Byron of the Montreal Canadiens. Both these NHLers found success playing for the Gatineau Olympiques after going undrafted in the OHL.
Giroux ended up registering 103 points in his first season in the QMJHL and saw his name added to both the CHL’s and the QMJHL’s 2005-06 All-Rookie Teams. His strong showing that year eventually led to him being selected in the first round, 22nd overall, by the Flyers in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft.
Byron, on the other hand, joined Giroux’s Olympiques the following season after spending his first year of junior hockey in the Eastern Ontario Junior Hockey League (EOJHL). He was able to put together a strong season and finished his first year with a total of 44 points. He turned enough heads with his play for the Buffalo Sabres to pick him up in the sixth round, 179th overall, of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft.
Now what do Byron, Giroux and Hardie all have in common?
All three are diminutive forwards, who were seemingly over-looked due to their stature. However, Hardie never bought into the idea that he was too small to play at the Major Junior level. He feels the game is actually transitioning to suit his style of play.
“I always thought I was good enough to play here. [The game] is more about skill and speed, that’s what teams are mostly looking for these days,” believes the 19-year-old.
And for all the confidence that Hardie has in his own ability, he is equally appreciative of the opportunities that were given to him and of his time in the QMJHL.
“I’m pretty blessed to have been a part of some great organizations. From the billets I’ve had, to the teammates, I’ve been pretty lucky,” he said.
Those words seem to resonate one thing in particular; that life isn’t too bad for Ontarians making the trip to play in the Q!