There are lots of good hockey players around. But there are only a few special ones.
In these parts, there’ve been only been a select few — a handful, really — who fit the bill as natural talents.
George and Alex Faulkner were probably the first. Dwayne Norris was in that company. John Slaney, for sure. Absolutely Daniel Cleary. Probably Harold Druken.
Alex Newhook will be the next one. Mark it down.
Perhaps, though, we should first let him turn 17, which won’t happen until the end of January.
But for now, we’ll marvel at his highlight packages, and the gaudy numbers he’s putting up in junior A hockey out west, a 16-year-old lining up against players three and four years his senior.
Newhook, from St. John’s, had the social media wire humming earlier this month, with a video of his end-to-end dash, capped with a goal, against the Prince George Spruce Kings (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JmMTK94UNds).
It was the final game prior to the Christmas break for Newhook’s Victoria Grizzlies, and the youngster from the other coast finished with a goal and an assist, a first-star honour and a video that quickly went viral.
“Nobody does that in our league,” said Victoria coach and general manager Craig Didmon of the goal. “He’s an exceptional player.”
The league of which Didmon is speaking is the British Columbia Hockey League, a breeding ground for aspiring U.S. college players and future pros.
Of the half dozen or eight junior A leagues in Canada, the BCHL is widely considered among the best. Some of its alumni include Kyle Turris, Jamie Benn and Tyler Bozak, and before them Scott Gomez, Shawn Horcoff, Paul Kariya and Brett Hull.
Colin Greening of St. John’s, before he went on to play for Cornell and later the Ottawa Senators and Toronto Maple Leafs, played in Nanaimo with the BCHL.
Newhook has travelled all the way to B.C. because he’s leaving open his NCAA option — he’s already committed to playing for Boston College starting in 2019-20, and doesn’t appear to be wavering on that decision.
Which must give Bobby Smith and the Halifax Mooseheads migraines every time they think of it.
The Mooseheads own Newhook’s major junior rights, having selected him in the third round, 41st overall, in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League draft last June.
Newhook, who was coming off a scoring title and player-of-the-year honours while skating for the midget AAA York Simcoe Express of the Ontario Minor Hockey Association’s Eastern AAA circuit last season, lasted until the third round because he told everyone who’d listen he was going NCAA.
Otherwise, he’d be a top three pick in the draft, with perhaps even a crack at No. 1.
Newhook appears to be the full package. He’s got size (he’s listed at 5-11 and 185 pounds, and even if those numbers are embellished a bit, and they always are, he’s still only 16); he’s a very, very good skater, with an explosive first step; his hockey IQ and on-ice vision are off the charts; he’s got pedigree (his father, Shawn, was a top scorer and MVP coming up through the local high school, junior and Avalon East ranks).
Need more proof the kid’s for real?
Tyson Jost of the Colorado Avalanche, the 10th overall pick in the 2016 NHL draft (did we mention three BCHL players went in the first round of the draft that year — Jost, Dante Fabbro and Dennis Cholowski), scored 23 goals and 45 points in 46 games during his rookie season in the BCHL, with the Penticton Vees. Newhook already has 15 goals and 41 points in 31 BCHL games. He sits sixth in league scoring, eight points from the leader.
He’s only 16, right?
In fact, the closest player to Newhook in scoring with a 2001 birth year is Layton Ahac of Prince George, who is committed to Ohio State University, with 20 points.
“He’s a competitor,” says Didmon, Newhook’s coach. “He battles hard, he’s super smart and he’s super skilled. That’s what we kind of say in the back room.
“He’s 16 playing against 20-year-olds and the time it took him to adapt was probably the shortest I’ve ever seen of any player ever in this league.”
Newhook was always really good, an elite-level hockey player coming up through the Avalon-Celtics minor ranks and later the St. John’s AAA peewee and bantam teams. Every hockey-playing youngster wants to be a pro, but Newhook took it to another level.
Barely into his teens, if he was even 13, Newhook was working out with strength and conditioning coach Ryan Power. He was getting extra skates at Xtreme Hockey.
He was doing what was needed to be a pro.
“Oh yeah … yeah,” he says over a coffee, wearing the Hockey Canada black winter coat he got from this year’s World Under-17 Hockey Challenge. “It’s always been a dream for me, always the end goal to play in the National Hockey League.
“It’s a huge dream. I started training pretty early, which definitely helped me. All the practices and extra skating definitely helped. I’ve always been willing to do whatever it took to take it to the next level. You have to do that if you want to play pro sometime.
“I kind of made up my mind that I was going to be a hockey player, and nothing was stopping me. I think that’s the approach you have to take.”
“We evaluate hockey players by their skill, their IQ and their attitude, and he’s got all three parts nailed down,” said Didmon.
“We all know the skill that he has, and his hockey smarts. And he’s got a second gear that a lot of kids don’t have. But his attitude towards the game, towards working hard and being the best player he can be is unreal. He kind of has that Jonathan Toews mentality.
“A lot of time you forget he’s 16.”
But let’s get back to Boston College for a minute, and maybe Halifax.
The Mooseheads are already in the discussion for CHL top 10 rankings. By the time the 2019 Memorial Cup rolls around (Halifax and Moncton are the likely candidates to play host to the ’19 Canadian major junior championship), the Herd will be loaded for bear.
And Newhook, if he so chooses, would be the one leading the charge.
And let’s be honest here: Halifax is one of those Canadian junior hockey franchises (Quebec and London are others) who have the wherewithal to, ah, make it worthwhile for a player (wink, wink, you get my drift, eh?) to come aboard.
The truth is Halifax might have had a shot, but Newhook seems hell bent on Boston College, especially now that his sister is heading to the school.
Joke is, for as good as Alex Newhook is, Abby Newhook might be better. She’s captain of the St. John’s Hitmen AAA bantam boys’ team, and unquestionably the finest female talent — along with another St. John’s native, Maggie Connors — to come along since former national team player Sarah Davis.
Abby Newhook has committed to attend BC in 2021.
Next year, she will be attending Tabor Academy in Marion, Mass., south of Boston.
“Halifax will always be there as an option,” he said, “but for now, I’m pretty set on Boston College.
“College hockey gives you more time to develop. It’s still fast hockey … outstanding hockey. You’re playing the top level in the United States. And you get a top education.
“At the U17 tournament, all of the guys were playing CHL, and they’re talking about major junior hockey and all the perks they get.
“But I’m pretty set on college. I know it’s the right thing for me. And with my sister going there, I mean, yeah, we’re pretty close. It’s good to know she’s there and it’s good for my family that we’ll be both in the same spot.”
Newhook is back in Victoria, where he’s preparing for the second half of the season starting Tuesday night at home against the Cowichan Valley Capitals.
He’ll be gunning for a scoring title, and will be a key figure in helping lead the 18-14-3-2 Grizzlies into the playoffs, all the while trying to shake off the disappointment of getting cut from the Canada West squad which eventually won the World Junior A Hockey Challenge championship last month in Nova Scotia.
That team was backstopped by Grizzlies goalie and Paradise native Zach Rose.
It was quite likely the first time Newhook was released from a team, and he sure was rotted, though he won’t admit as much.
No matter, however, because at the rate he’s going, a shot at the national junior team — just like Fabbro on this year’s squad — will probably be in his future.
Here’s betting that will only be scratching the surface.
Robin Short is The Telegram’s Sports Editor. He can be reached by email [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @TelyRobinShort