Mississauga, Ontario’s Daniel Winnik
left home in 2003 to further pursue a career in hockey and, 11 years later, the significance of being able to play for the Maple Leafs hasn’t been lost on the eight year veteran of the National Hockey League.
Winnik grew up idolizing Wendel Clark and Doug Gilmour, taking parts of both of their games as his own. Unlike the former Leaf captains, Winnik forewent Major Junior hockey for an opportunity to play the university game at the University of New Hampshire.
“I think it’s because my dad (Walter) was such an education advocate. I found it kind of tough to determine at 15 or 16 what I wanted to do,” said Winnik. “I still think junior hockey is a great route, but I think university hockey was the best way for me to develop as a player and a person. “
The NCAA path eventually paid off.
Winnik was selected in the ninth round of the 2004 draft and, despite being selected 265th overall, eventually made it to the NHL.
A season spent in the minors in 2006-07 in San Antonio served as a stepping stone for the following season and making the Phoenix Coyotes. Head coach Wayne Gretzky delivered the incredible news on a flight home following the Coyotes last pre-season game in Colorado.
“It was the most exited I’d ever been,” said Winnik. “We didn’t have wifi on the plane in those days. It was probably the most nervous hour and a half just waiting until we landed.”
Winnik’s excitement soon carried over into the greater Mississauga area.
“We landed around 3 a.m. eastern time but I promptly called my parents and woke them up to let them know that I had made the team.”
Almost a decade later Winnik’s unbridled enthusiasm continues as a Leaf.
He’s amongst the League leaders in penalty minutes killed and his versatility has seen him play on each of the club’s four lines.
After leaving his hometown over a decade ago, Leafs Nation is hopeful he’s here to stay.