Daniel McKitrick grew up playing hockey in Coral Harbour, Nunavut – an arctic community on the north shore of Hudson’s Bay where the average winter temperature is -20°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 bath.
“It’s always hot here, even in winter,” says 25-year-old McKitrick.
Earlier this year he was 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.
Although he says he has competed in tournaments in the US before, this year marks his first full season there.
MicKitrick trained from a young age to join ice hockey at a high level. When he entered 6th grade he moved to Thunder Bay, Ontario to pursue his love of sports.
While the move to Biloxi was a minor adjustment, hockey remains a constant no matter where it lands.
“Everything is the same on the ice rink,” he says. “It’s a long way from home but I have really good teammates and coaches here and everyone involved makes me feel at home… So it wasn’t that hard at all.”
McKitrick says he lives in an apartment with a few of his teammates.
“So it’s really fun,” he says.
They train a lot during the week and have games on the weekends – he’s played in 15 so far. He says he earned 12 points in those games; seven goals and five assists.
The Games have also allowed him to travel, including to New York a few times earlier in the year.
“There are many fans”
McKitrick suspects that he is the only – or at least one of the few – Inuk in Biloxi.
He says the fans are coming to see and support him and his teammates.
“We sign autographs and chat with them … they’re really excited to see hockey here again,” he says, referring to the COVID-19 shutdowns.
But he says he often has to explain exactly what and where Nunavut is.
“In the beginning, a lot of people here didn’t even know Nunavut existed,” says McKitrick.
“There are a few fans who knew, and they came up to me and asked me about Nunavut. And how it is,” he says.
McKitrick doesn’t shy away from people’s questions, however. He says he enjoys talking to fans and telling them about what’s going on in Coral Harbor and his hunting and fishing stories.
McKitrick only has four days off from hockey over Christmas, so he plans to stay in Biloxi over the holidays.
He says playing in a professional league has been his dream since he was a kid 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 can do it… it was just awesome,” says McKitrick.
“There are a lot of fans out there. I have always dreamed about it.”