Many young hockey players around Oshawa grow up with dreams of one day playing for the Oshawa Generals, but very few get to live out that dream.
In his final year on his third OHL team, Generals forward Hayden McCool, 20, is finally doing just that.
When he was drafted sixth overall by the Niagara Ice Dogs in 2013, the last place he expected to finish his junior career was with his hometown team.
“It was almost like a dream come true for me,” says McCool. “I always watched them growing up and I never thought I’d be able to play for them.”
After a disappointing rookie season in Niagara, McCool was traded to the Windsor Spitfires during the 2014-2015 season in a blockbuster trade for current Islanders forward, Josh Ho-Sang.
He got back on track in Windsor with 64 points in his first season and a half with the team.
The highlight of his junior career came last year when Windsor won the Memorial Cup on home ice.
“To be able to win is hard,” says McCool. “We had a special group of guys and to be able to do something like that, you’ll never forget it the rest of your life.”
With the Memorial Cup off his bucket list and only one season remaining in his junior career, there was one final thing he wanted to experience for himself: how it feels to step on the Tribute Communities Centre ice donning the Generals’ red, white and blue.
To do so, he asked Spitfires’ management in the summer to trade him closer to home and on Oct. 17, 2017, the trade was complete and McCool was finally a General.
It took just three months for the team to develop enough trust in the 6-foot-3 centre, naming him an assistant captain by January.
McCool didn’t have much exposure growing up playing for his small town Newcastle Stars. During his time in there, McCool led the team to a Novice provincial championship while playing with kids one year older than him.
One of his coaches, Scott Turner, remembers a time McCool got special permission to play for the house league team in a tournament just so they could field a team.
“The team had not won a game all year and they won a game or two in the tournament, that I remember,” he says. “It’s the first game they won that I remember so vividly, only because every kid in the room was so excited and relieved.”
McCool left Newcastle in pursuit of more competition and joined the Clarington Toros AAA program for his Minor Peewee season.
After making a name for himself and drawing in some scouts along the way, McCool joined the Whitby Wildcats AAA team for his final minor season where he led the team in points and lost in the gold medal game at the provincial championships.
Playing minor hockey for three different teams in Durham Region, McCool was more than thrilled to add one more to that list, but for reasons beyond hockey.
“Five hours to Windsor was a little far and I made my family do that for three years,” he says. “To be able to come here helps them out. Living at home I get to see my little brother every day, my mom cooks my dinner and I get to sleep in my own bed every night.”
With limited time left in junior hockey, McCool is now looking to the future. He has attended NHL camps with the Blackhawks, Canadiens, and Blues, and hopes for another chance at pro hockey after this season.
No matter where McCool’s hockey career takes him, this past season has shown him that despite not lighting up the stat sheet, he is more than happy with his OHL experience.
“Winning the Memorial Cup and then playing for my hometown team, those are two really special things,” he says. “Not many people get to play here, we’re pretty blessed to play in the OHL every day.”