It is just over 2,800 kilometres from Coral Harbour, Nunavut, to
Chilliwack, B.C., give or take a few dozen clicks. For Daniel McKitrick,
the road to the 2018 RBC Cup was a whole lot longer than that.
A native of the tiny Inuit community (population 891), the 20-year-old was
on the ice in the Fraser Valley this week chasing his second RBC Cup title
in as many years, this time with the Steinbach Pistons.
He won’t have a chance to join an exclusive group of players who have won
Canada’s National Junior A Championship in consecutive seasons with
different teams, but McKitrick’s story isn’t about the result, it’s about
Coral Harbour, located on Southampton Island at the top of Hudson Bay,
isn’t exactly a hockey hotbed. There is no minor hockey association,
meaning McKitrick and his friends had to learn the game the old fashioned
“There’s nothing else to do so we just played hockey all day,” he says of
his northern upbringing. “There’s an arena there, but my dad made a rink in
the backyard, so that’s all we did, me and my friends, we played
He finally made the move to organized hockey when he was 11, joining the
Thunder Bay Minor Hockey Association and starring for the Thunder Bay Kings
program through his Midget AAA season in 2013-14.
From there began a junior hockey sojourn that included stops with seven
teams in four leagues over four seasons, along with trips onto the biggest
stage in the Junior A game in each of the last two springs.
He played as a 17-year-old with the Thunder Bay North Stars (SIJHL) in
2014-15 before heading west to join the Humboldt Broncos (SJHL) the
following season. After 80 games in green and gold, he was sent to the
Cobourg Cougars (OJHL) in December 2016.
The 5-foot-6 dynamo averaged more than a point a game with the Cougars, and
added one goal in six games to help Cobourg win the RBC Cup on home ice
“We weren’t supposed to win a game because we had a layoff [after being
eliminated from the OJHL playoffs], sort of like Chilliwack,” McKitrick
says of the Cougars’ run to the title. “But we did a lot of work that
month, and we had some good players, too. The semifinal and final were
crazy. Being at home, being in front of our fans – getting the win was
With his final season of junior on the horizon, it was time for a change.
McKitrick wanted another chance at a championship, and was dealt to La
Ronge Ice Wolves (SJHL) on July 11 before being sent to the Portage
Terriers (MJHL) just 24 days after that.
His stay in Portage wasn’t long; McKitrick played 10 games with the
Terriers before an Oct. 17 trade to the Melville Millionaires (SJHL), and
10 days later – without having played a game for the Millionaires – he was
shipped to Steinbach.
With his suitcase finally unpacked in sourtheast Manitoba, McKitrick got to
work sharing his big-game knowledge with the Pistons, who were in the midst
of running roughshod over the rest of the MJHL.
For the newcomer it wasn’t necessarily what to say, as when to say it.
“You sort of pick your spots as you go,” he says. “We were down in the
third period few times and we found out way back, so it’s really just
staying consistent no matter the situation. ‘Never get too high, never too
low’ is a big one you bring to any game.”
There have been highs and lows aplenty for McKitrick over the last few
With Steinbach on track for a league championship, tragedy struck the
hockey world when the Humboldt Broncos bus crash on April 6 claimed the
lives of 16 people and sent 13 more to hospital.
McKitrick lost friends and former teammates in the accident, and the
postponement of Game 2 of the MJHL final offered him the opportunity to
return to Humboldt alongside other Broncos alumni and help the community grieve.
“[I went] to see my billets; it was a pretty tough time there,” McKitrick
says. “I had a lot of buddies that played on my team that year that had
moved on like me, like Chris Van Os-Shaw and my roommate Trevor Posch, that
went down there, and they were telling me to go.
“It was nice to get some closure and be with my billets at a pretty bad
As he finishes up his junior career in Chilliwack, McKitrick is excited for
the future – not only his, but the future of the game in northern Canada.
Just as Jordin Tootoo was a role model for him growing up (he got a text of congratulations from the NHLer after winning the RBC Cup), McKitrick has
young players in Coral Harbour, and across Nunavut, looking to him as an
example of what it takes to succeed “down south.”
“I’ve actually heard some stories about some kids going and playing AAA,
whether it’s in Thompson or in Winnipeg,” he says. “A lot of the players,
now that they see me, especially from a really small town, they see that it
is possible to go and play junior if you work hard and have the right