In May of 1997 the Hartford Whalers owner, Peter Karmanos announced that the team would be moving their franchise to Raliegh, North Carolina. While moving an ice hockey team from New England, a prime hockey market, to North Carolina, where there were hardly any hockey rinks at all, was seen as a major gamble at the time. Fast forward exactly two years to the day of the announcement and Nick Hale, recently committed D1 hockey player to Holy Cross, was born in Raleigh, NC. Unlike those before him, he had the luxury of growing up with an NHL team in his backyard.
“Hockey wasn’t the main attraction around in Raleigh, North Carolina for the longest time until the Carolina Hurricanes came to town and had some success, including winning the cup in 2006,” said Hale. After the 2006 season, at 7 years old, Nick knew he wanted to be a hockey player. He played youth hockey in Raleigh and went on to play AAA for the Carolina Jr. Hurricanes.
“At showcases and tournaments, it was obvious that some people smirked at the idea of a good hockey team coming out of North Carolina. However, we were a good hockey team from North Carolina. We may not have had the most talented team every year, but we competed in every minute of every game.”
He credits the program’s success to the coaches he had including former NCAA players Colin Muldoon (Ferris St), Lyle Wildgoose (Providence), Steven Halko (Michigan), Manny Hawkins (Geneseo), and Rod Brind’Amour (Michigan State). Halko and Brind’Amour played in the NHL for the Carolina Hurricanes, and Rod currently serves as the team’s assistant coach. “Their determination to help us develop on the ice as hockey players and off the ice as good people was special. It was an amazing opportunity to be coached by Rod Brind’Amour. I remember him telling me when I was young that he would focus on being the best and most hardworking player every time he stepped onto the ice. I think that mindset is one of the reasons why a lot of us young players from the Carolinas are having success,” admitted Hale.
Playing AAA in a non-traditional hockey market means a lot of travel to compete in showcases in New England, New York, Michigan, Minnesota, Illinois, Toronto and even the west coast. After two full seasons with the Jr. Hurricanes, trying to juggle the hockey, the travel, the academics and the social life, he decided he would leave home and attend boarding school in New England. While he looked at Gunnery, Kent and Brooks, it was Salisbury, the three time defending New England Prep Champions that he ultimately chose to attend. “Their Assistant Coach Brian Phinney coached me at the USA Select 15 Development Camp and stayed in touch with me over the next year and I eventually got up to see the campus. As soon as I arrived at what is called ‘the hilltop’ and felt the sense of brotherhood among the guys on the team, I knew that I could see myself living there and thriving there.” In an interesting twist of fate, the boy who became a hockey player when the Whalers relocated from Hartford, CT to Raliegh, NC was moving to his favorite NHL team’s roots in Connecticut to live out his hockey dream.
His career with the Junior Hurricanes and standout play at the Select 15 and 16 National Development Camps had already put his name on the map among college recruiters but he entered his first season in prep without a college offer.
His stock rose after a productive fall season with Yale Bulldogs midget program followed up by a top four D role at Salisbury including running one of their power plays. Salisbury Head Coach Andrew Will, who has won 4 New England Prep titles in 8 seasons with the Crimson Knights, spoke very highly of his young defenseman. “Nick displayed tremendous maturity, poise and confidence as a young, first-year defenseman. He possesses an exceptional work ethic, and is driven to excel in the classroom, in the community, and on the ice. He does all the little things that it takes to be an outstanding player and leader.”
He started getting interest from several colleges and had visits with St. Lawrence, Yale, Union, Cornell, Vermont and Holy Cross. However, as time went on it seemed like Holy Cross was emerging as the top choice.
“Holy Cross began following me when I played with the Jr. Hurricanes and continued to throughout my first year at Salisbury. Once I came onto campus for the first time, I knew I was embarking on something special. It was the little things that stuck out like the Ivy on the buildings. I also really liked the coaching staff. Coach Berard really connected with me when he talked about having a strong mindset and how important that was to his team’s success. The idea of playing for a team that fights for everything they get reminded me of playing at home for the Jr. Hurricanes. Lastly, I knew Holy Cross provided an excellent education that would help me build connections and give me options once hockey is over.”
After the season ended and it was back home to Raliegh and back to work on his development to prepare for the next season. However, he finally got the call; a phone call from the Holy Cross coaching staff with an offer to play for the Crusaders in the near future. It didn’t take him long to accept. “Ever since I was around 8 years old, I fell in love with the concept of playing college hockey. Everything I did, whether being in the classroom, weight room, or on the ice was all in effect to boost my chances of getting the opportunity to play college hockey. Once that last phone call ended and I was able to sit back and enjoy the moment by myself. I was thrilled that I could eventually call myself a D1 hockey player. I was able to put everything in perspective and it was nice to relax and quietly celebrate.”
What kind of player is Holy Cross getting in Hale? We asked both the player and the coach. Andrew Will believes, “as an undersized defenseman, Nick has excellent mobility and gap control. He’s extremely intelligent and strong for his size. He also has very good offensive instincts and retrieves pucks in his own end very well.”
The young prospect also seems to have a good grasp of his game and the areas he’ll need to improve upon before making the trek to Worcester. “On the ice I see myself as a mobile D who can use his feet to escape trouble and create opportunities. I am able to break pucks out and transition in a way to push the pace on teams. I was a forward since I was about 13 years old. I have been able to use these skills and apply them in my game on the back end, whether that is in my own zone, on rush, or in the offensive zone on a powerplay. However, from now until I attend Holy Cross, I will continue to try to perfect my skating ability as well as my awareness, shot, and consistency.”
Nick recently returned from the Select 17 National Development Camp and for the rest of the summer will get on the ice twice a week and work out five days a week with Coach Colin Muldoon. As for this plans going forward the undersized, puck moving defenseman will return to the Yale Bulldogs and Salisbury School next season. He has attended Dubuque’s training camp the past two summers after getting drafted with their last pick in the 2015 Futures Draft. “Getting drafted by such an amazing organization in Dubuque was truly an honor. I have gone to main camp there both this year and last year and both times I have had a blast. The community there is top notch and they are really focused on doing things the right way.”
As is tradition, we ask every player what advice they would have for the next group of players just starting their NCAA/CHL recruiting process. In this case however, we framed the question from the perspective of an undersized defenseman. It doesn’t take long to notice that while the game is changing and defenseman are being required to skate more and handle the puck more than ever before, NCAA, CHL and NHL blue lines are still dominated with 6 footers.
“If I had any advice to give to someone who is in a similar position as I was, it would be to do more than the guy next to you. As you get older you start to realize that there are many great hockey players out there and there are not enough spots for everyone. The only thing you can guarantee yourself is how much time and effort you put in. What do you do before or after a practice that no one else does that will give you that edge once game time comes around. Hard work leads to success. As I grew up and learned what kind of player I was, and it was important that I understood that it wasn’t a race to commit or get drafted, or move on to the next league. You want to know that where you’re going, you belong.”
The Raliegh, NC native is the first commit for Holy Cross’ class of 2018.
Photo Credit: Dan Hickling/ Hickling Images