Hard stats - the kind that can be summed up in box score - can be awfully unforgiving. Dan McGillis knows this as well as anyone.
After 634 career NHL games and 238 points, the hard-nosed defender with the team-first focus was dispatched to the minors by the New Jersey Devils in 2005-06 following a 27-game stint that saw him collect just six assists.
At 32 years old, McGillis was still considered a sound NHL defender, but salary cap issues and a glut of younger talent in need of ice time meant a demotion to Albany.
That could have spelled the end for the rugged rearguard who did enough at Northeastern University to catch the eyes of Red Wings scouts, who drafted him in the10th round in 1992. Not for McGillis.
The, 6’3” 220 lbs defenseman who joined the Canucks on a tryout basis last week, was all smiles following his first real practice with his new teammates as he described his passion for hockey and family.
He’s getting another crack at the NHL on Vancouver's blue line, partly because of intangibles that can't easily be reduced to figures.
Looking a few years back in Hawkesbury, Ontario, his family’s influence and support reflects the strength of his love for the game. From learning on a frozen pond, to hockey lessons, McGillis gladly expresses his positive childhood past.
“Hockey was definitely a big part of my family, my life, and the town as well. There was this junior team in town, so obviously hockey was a big sport, which it is in most Canadian cities and small towns around North America.”
“I was probably around three when I started pushing a chair around, learning how to skate. We had an outdoor rink right at the bottom of the hill, so I played hockey outdoor on the streets as a little boy and on the ice at the outdoor rink -- that’s pretty much how I started”
Though a truly multitalented athlete through his high school and undergraduate years, McGillis only had eyes for one sport, which engulfed his life.
“I played pretty much all [the sports] I could, but anything that conflicted with hockey, obviously I didn’t play. I played basketball, soccer, and volleyball, high school sports, and then once I was done junior I went to college in the states.”
“I think I excelled in some and most sports, maybe not all of them, but we won’t critique on those ones,” McGillis chuckles. “But certainly, athleticism is a big part of my life and my family, and hockey just so happens to take over pretty quickly.”
It’s hard to imagine that a talented veteran like McGillis could spend a season in the American Hockey League (AHL) at 34 years old.
Although outsiders might view it as a step down - one that signals a quiet end to an NHL career - McGillis has a different take.
“It was a good experience; I got to play with a lot of younger players. I got to experience it from that end of the scale and help out some kids on and off the ice with some of the experiences I had prior to playing in the [AHL]. So, I hope that I was able to share some good experiences and pass on a couple tips and teach a couple things to some players that they will take that to the next level.”
Adopting a mentorship role with the Lowell Devils, McGillis remained focused on the end goal: a return to the big leagues. With a 49-point season under his belt in Philadelphia in 2000-01, there’s no question he has the skills, it was simply a matter of time and opportunity.
Personal trainer, Tony Greco, helped keep McGillis in fine tune while he waited for another window to open.
“I’ve been training with him for 3 years and dynamically it’s changed my work outs for the new game,” McGillis said. “It’s certainly a different way to work out and trying to get lean and quick and work on forward stability more than ever, so it’s been a good experience doing that and it keeps me young.”
As much as the conditioning and gym work, McGillis turns his attention to his family for a little time off.
“On the weekends, I’d go up to the cottages with my family…My little girl caught her first fish this year, so it’s pretty fun. She’s three and a half, so we certainly enjoy that part very much being with my family: my two little girls, my wife, my dog. We try to [go to the lake] pretty much every weekend.”
“We have all kinds of different fish: bass fishing, and obviously for my little girl, any kind of fish she can catch is good – maybe minnows -- but there’s definitely a big variety of fish in the lake, nothing like the ocean obviously, but certainly enough to keep us busy.”
Like catching his first fish, his phone call to come to Vancouver is an impossible feeling to describe.
“I got a call at the gym in the afternoon and they said that there might be a great opportunity with Vancouver, can you be on the plane by 6pm. So, I need to do some laundry pretty soon because I hadn’t brought too much stuff because I had to run to the plane.”
“Knowing the Vancouver Canucks organization and history, how well they’ve done here, and what kind of team they have, it’s certainly an honour and an opportunity I want to relish. I’m really happy to be here and I’ll give it my all – whatever happens, happens.”
With solid NHL experience McGillis appears poised to carve out a steady job in Vancouver and tackle yet another hurdle in a long and successful NHL journey.
This just may be the year he finally catches his.