By BOB DUFF
As part of our Minor Hockey Memories series, we asked a number of former NHL players to reminisce about their favorite youth hockey memories, and to discuss what they would change about today’s youth hockey culture.
Today, Bray May shares his thoughts. A rugged forward, May played 1,041 NHL games from 1991-2010 for the Buffalo Sabres, Vancouver Canucks, Colorado Avalanche, Anaheim Ducks, Phoenix Coyotes, Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings. He won a Stanley Cup with the 2006-07 Ducks.
Currently, May works as an analyst on NHL broadcasts.
What organization did you play minor hockey for as a kid?
Brad May: I played in two different towns. I started off in Stouffville and then I moved to Markham when I was 10. I played my minor hockey in Markham with the WinterHawks.
Did you play AAA the whole time?
May: I never played AAA. When I was 13, I played house-league hockey. Then I played single-A and then I went back and I played AA when I was in midget.
What is your favorite memory of minor hockey?
May: I would say it would be the mini-stick hockey in the hotels or motels where we would stay when we played in all these tournaments. Then we’d play the game Nicky Nicky Nine Door where you’d knock on a hotel room door and then run down the hall and hide. It’s pretty much everything about the game except the game that you miss. You miss those friendships and the drives with your buddies. I think we played so many games and had so many practices, you can’t decipher which is which but you definitely remember going to the rink and the times around the rink.
What was your favorite drill as a kid?
May: I didn’t really have a favorite drill. I got cut from the AA team when I was 13 and I went back and played house-league hockey. I played with guys who hadn’t skated before. It was basically the lowest level, clearly but it was a ton of fun. I was on the ice a lot. Because you weren’t traveling all over the province, I just got to go on the ice and play and not be coached. Just kind of figure it out. There was no drill. It was just that solitude. Those afternoons when school ended when you were able to get on the ice, just you and a few of your buddies. You were creative. I’d say that’s where I made my biggest strides.
How much of a role did your parents play in your hockey as a kid?
May: Amazing. They were amazing. Mom and dad, they split up when I was 10 years old but they were always around and no matter what. I didn’t struggle to get rides, whether it was my parents setting up rides with teammates, or my parents driving myself and my brother Daryl. I don’t recall missing out on a darn thing, so my parents did a good job certainly through what broken families go through. They put their differences aside and put the kids first. That was a great thing for us, for sure.
How much other hockey development did you do outside of your regular team?
May: I did some at times when I was younger. I went to a Russian guy named Smushkin who had camps at Chesswood Arena. Different camps like that. But the truth is we lived out in the country. We lived basically in a small, little hamlet called Goodwood, and we lived on a pond. Literally, we’d get home from school and you’d be on the ice playing until dinner. We were on the ice a lot, outside on the pond. It was unbelievable. It was probably where my brother and I got our creativity and were able to excel somewhat and become better players. It was probably that sibling rivalry thing. You’re trying to keep up with your older brother and his buddies. That push alone was probably the greatest.
Did you play spring hockey?
May: When I was in Grade 9 I played summer hockey at Chesswood Arena. Mike Torcoff was our coach. He used to run clinics and camps all over the place. I played hockey for him that one summer. There was a lot more emphasis on strategy and positioning. It was a big summer for me for sure.
Did you play other sports?
BM: I played baseball when I was younger. I played football and rugby in high school, rugby probably being my favorite. It was a really physical sport and I loved the brotherhood. I played for Team Ontario one summer and our high school team went over to play in England and Wales. That was a really good experience. The one sport I regret never playing was lacrosse. That would’ve been a great complimentary sport.
What is the one thing you would change about minor hockey?
May: I would actually make it more local. I wouldn’t let 12 and 13-year old kids take off from their town. The whole idea of junior hockey — and I’m not talking about the OHL, but the other levels — drains young hockey players from their smaller towns. All of a sudden, the other kids aren’t going to be as good as they could’ve been. It’s like when they talk about the brain drain of doctors going to the States. This is a talent drain. I would increase play at the midget level, maybe even make it a three-year level instead of two and keep those kids playing against each other. I’d make it more local, so parents didn’t have to spend so much money and travel across the province. You can learn the same things on the ice sheet five minutes from your house as you can by driving two hours to play a game.