If hockey is part of Canadian DNA, then backyard hockey is the force that fans the flames.
Kelvington, Saskatchewan, is deep-frozen for up to 5 long wintery months. It is also a tiny town, population 1,200, yet has produced at least three NHL players:
Growing up in the shadow of three hockey superstars, it is easy to understand why - in Kelvington - every kid believes that reaching the big leagues is attainable.
Andrew McLarty was one of those kids. Except, Andrew was also a very promising hockey player. The yearly backyard hockey rink could have had something to do with his skills where he used to play backyard hockey The backyard rink usually measured roughly 20 x 50, and came with hockey boards, lighting, the whole nine yards.
Andrew raced home every day after school, donned his gear and skated for hours every afternoon. Playmates were optional. A bucket of pucks and a net could entertain him for hours. A quick break for supper, and then he'd put in another 2+ hours of practice, or challenge his brothers to a game of backyard hockey. The pattern followed day after day, year after year.
Backyard hockey wasn't the only factor in Andrew's growing hockey skills, of course. That's because Wendel Clark had a hockey school in Kelvington. Andrew McLarty attended that hockey school.
At one point, the coaches conferred with young Andrew's dad.
"The kid's good," they said. "He's got a real chance at the NHL. He skates well. He has a sixth hockey sense. He has that elusive 'feel' for timing his play. He scores well. Yes, we like his chances."
Years later, during Young Canada Week, Andrew captained his team to the Finals. They defeated every opponent, finally losing in the Finals.
As luck, fate, or divine providence would have it, Andrew's timing was off on one thing - a broken collarbone at the point in time when the scouts were watching his play. In the end, Andrew chose a different path. Perhaps his stature of just 5'9" had something to do with his decision.
Mention 'hockey' to Andrew McLarty today, and a surge of adrenaline immediately stiffens his back. His eyes widen with a fiery glint and a grin creases his face.
For all the Andrews in the USA, Canada and Europe that dream and then move on, there are a few equally gifted kids that do reach the NHL. We asked Andrew for a few tips for youngsters dreaming of NHL fame.
mybackyardicerink.com: Can a guy who is just 'good' at hockey make it to the NHL?
Andrew: If you can skate well, there is hope. If not, your skills will hit a ceiling. So, take skating lessons, the younger the better.
mybackyardicerink.com: What is the best way to improve your skating and other skills?
Andrew: The beauty of backyard hockey is that it increases creativity. You can develop that sense of timing, of knowing how a play will develop, and therefore the ability to make plays happen.
Size, talent, determination, and a lot of backyard hockey may just rocket you into the NHL. Can't you just picture it...?!
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