Hockey solid on 'The Rock'

Colin Greening at the Ottawa Senators training camp Tuesday, September 20, 2011. (DARREN BROWN/QMI...

Colin Greening at the Ottawa Senators training camp Tuesday, September 20, 2011. (DARREN BROWN/QMI AGENCY, file)

CHRIS STEVENSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 4:51 PM ET

ST. JOHN’S, N.L. - When the Ottawa Senators took to the ice for their morning skate at Mile One Centre Monday morning, a couple of veterans prodded forward Colin Greening to centre ice to lead the team stretch.

It’s a bit of a position of honour and with Greening back in his hometown, veterans Chris Neil and Matt Carkner gave the local kid some recognition in front of a couple of thousand fans on hand for the morning workouts by the Senators and the Winnipeg Jets in preparation for the annual Kraft Hockeyville game.

“The guys were nice. Carker and Neil were like, ‘get in the middle.’ They realize how big this is for me,” said Greening, the 25-year-old second-year pro. He played 24 games with the Senators last season after being called up from Binghamton Senators of the American Hockey League following the Senators’ roster purge and is a good bet to earn a regular spot this season.

Greening is another player in a growing NHL contingent from Newfoundland as hockey, the way Greening sees it, grows in quality on The Rock. Having the Hockeyville game here shines the spotlight.

“It’s big. Hockey here is huge. I know sometimes you forget about Newfoundland because we’re so far east and we have our own time zone, but hockey is big here. Everyone is born on skates. We’re proud Canadians. It’s great to have Hockeyville here and get another AHL team,” said Greening.

Mile One will be home to the Jets’ AHL farm team, the IceCaps, this season. The Toronto Maple Leafs had their AHL affiliate here until 2005. To illustrate Greening’s point about hockey’s popularity here, the IceCaps have sold 5,000 season tickets in a building which has a capacity of 6,275. The expectation is all the club’s games will be sold out this season.

Greening grew up about five minutes away from the rink.

He’s looking to join Dan Cleary of the Detroit Red Wings, Michael Ryder of the Dallas Stars, Ryan Clowe of the San Jose Sharks, Teddy Purcell of the Tampa Bay Lightning and prospect Luke Adam of the Buffalo Sabres as guys from The Rock to get a shot at carving out an NHL career.

Leading the way was Cleary, the 32-year-old veteran of the Detroit Red Wings. He was the 13th pick overall in the 1997 draft and went on to a Stanley Cup-winning career, inspiring kids like Greening.

“Cleary, he was the one who really kind of started it all for us. I remember when he made it with Detroit, at that time guys like myself and Luke Adam and Teddy were still trying to make it. I think he kind of gave us that little extra incentive. We looked at him and saw how successful he could be and realized if he could do it, perhaps if we worked hard enough, we could do it as well. I think he was probably the catalyst for everything,” said Greening.

“There’s a lot more awareness here of hockey. A lot more camps, a lot more teams coming out of Newfoundland. Awareness would probably be the best word. Teams can go away and get noticed. Hopefully there will be more Newfoundlanders to come.”

Unfortunately for the best players here, the inevitable truth is they must leave home to further their careers.

After playing midget hockey here in 2002-03 (St. John’s Midget Maple Leafs) , Greening opted to go to Upper Canada College in Toronto for two years, then on to the Nanaimo Clippers of the BCHL. He wound up playing college hockey at Cornell University.

“Geographically, that’s the unfortunate part and I knew that. I knew if I wanted to move onto the next level, I would have to leave. As sad as that is to say, to leave your home, if you want to try and make it in hockey, that’s just the sacrifice you are going to have to make. If you prepare your kids for that, that you may have to leave, but it’s your choice. It was my choice.

“I chose to go to Upper Canada College. Hindsight is 20-20. Looking back, I could say I could have done this or I could have done that, but at the time those were the best decisions. I don’t regret them. They were great stepping stones. I think I’m better for it.

“There were a lot of options open. The way I was raised, there was a lot of academic encouragement in the household. Growing up, I knew if I could play hockey and get my education at the same time, I’d be very lucky. From the time I started playing hockey, we geared towards that route.”

Maybe Greening will wind up inspiring a kid at the Hockeyville game Monday night, a kid who will follow in his footsteps off The Rock and to the NHL.


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