Daniel McKitrick grew up playing hockey in Coral Harbour, Nunavut – an arctic community on the northern coastline 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 Colosseum and Convention Center, about a 10-minute drive from the beach. It’s almost always warm enough to take a swim.
“It’s hot here all the time, even in the winter,” says 25-year-old McKitrick.
Earlier this year, he signed with 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.
While he says he has played in tournaments in the US before, this year is 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.
While the move to Biloxi was a bit of an adjustment, hockey remains a constant feature, no matter where he ends up.
“Everything is the same on the rink,” 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 really 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 earlier this year.
“There are many 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 really excited to see hockey back here,” he says, referring to covid-19 shutdowns.
But he says he often has to explain what and where exactly Nunavut is.
“In the beginning, they didn’t even know Nunavut existed, a lot of the people here,” McKitrick says.
“There’s a couple of fans who knew and they came up to me and they asked me about Nunavut. And how is that,” he says.
McKitrick doesn’t shy away from people’s questions, though. He says he enjoys talking to fans and he talks about what’s going on in Coral Harbor and his hunting and fishing stories.
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 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,” McKitrick said.
“There’s a lot of fans out there. I’ve kind of always dreamed of this.”