When you look at Ontario-born players across the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, you notice a particular trend: many of them were selected by an Ontario Hockey League team in the OHL Draft. Of those not drafted, many played a handful of games at the OHL level.
Daniel Hardie didn’t follow that trend.
“As a 15 year-old kid, not getting drafted is pretty heartbreaking. I didn’t really know what was next, I kind of thought my hockey career was over at that point, to be honest.” said Hardie.
Rather than remaining disappointed, Hardie used that setback as motivation. With a chip on his shoulder, Hardie joined his hometown Georgetown Raiders of the Ontario Junior Hockey League and shone as a 17 year-old, scoring 20 goals and finishing fourth on his team with 48 points, an impressive feat given the strength of a team that finished second overall and lost in the OJHL Finals to the Trenton Golden Hawks that season.
His impressive play opened up options for Hardie, not the least of which were college opportunities south of the border.
“When I went to Jr. A, a lot of guys were talking about NCAA. Everyone around me was in the NCAA mindset, and that’s where a lot of the guys I played with ended up going.” Hardie explained.
One of the options for the Georgetown native was with the Rimouski Oceanic. The decision was a tough one; stick on the course and earn an NCAA scholarship? Or take a shot at major junior. The decision was a divisive one.
“When I was thinking about coming [to the QMJHL] and I was telling my Jr. A coach, he didn’t know if it was a great idea.” said Hardie. “He’s had some bad experiences with players coming to the Q and not lasting.”
The forward, who had been driven early in his career by defying the odds, decided to take his chances.
“That served as extra motivation for me; once I heard that I had to prove him wrong,” said Hardie. “I think I’ve done that ever since the OHL Draft; I’ve been proving people wrong and I’m going to continue to do that.”
So the 5’10 forward made his way to Eastern Quebec to begin his QMJHL career. He was quick to admit that the move was tough at first, but a few particular teammates eased him in.
“Rimouski had a couple of Maritime guys at the time that helped me through the transition,” said Hardie. “Tyler Boland, Dominic Cormier, and Carson MacKinnon, to name a few. Those guys took me in and became my boys there. They really showed me the way of the Q.”
Hardie’s QMJHL career didn’t exactly get off on the best of feet. He battled shoulder problems early in the season and a concussion towards the end of the year, limiting him to just 45 games. Despite that, Hardie proved himself to be an effective scorer, notching 18 goals and 38 points that season.
As he got healthy and prepared for his sophomore season in Rimouski, Hardie soon discovered he’d be heading a little further east. Just prior to the season, Hardie was traded to the Saint John Sea Dogs. While the news came as a shock to him, Hardie recognized the opportunity he was presented with.
“It was a good opportunity to get a lot of ice time and play with some pretty good players like Joe Veleno.” said Hardie.
It was an opportunity he certainly made the most of. On a rebuilding team, Hardie was a near point-per-game player on a team bereft of offensive ability. His strong play that first half of the season drew eyes from around the league, particularly within his own division.
“Rimouski had locked Daniel up before we had started our free agent pursuit in 2016. He did a great job that year, and was a great player for them.” said Islanders head coach and general manager Jim Hulton regarding his future player. “It wasn’t until he was moved to Saint John that we really started to notice him.”
Having already bolstered his offense with the likes of Derek Gentile and Cameron Askew during the 2017-2018 trade period, Hulton wanted to add one final piece. He went to work in the final hour before the trade deadline, making a series of moves to eventually land Hardie at the last minute in exchange for a 4th and 5th rounder. Suffice to say that the investment was certainly worth it.
“He’s been a pretty consistent point-per-game player ever since he got here,” said Hulton on Hardie. “He’s probably even exceeded our expectations this year. Last year when we acquired him it was to increase the offense; he certainly did that last season, and he’s led the force this season.”
Hardie would finish out the season second on the Islanders with 53 points, including 23 with his new team. His strong play would continue during Charlottetown’s magical run to the semi-finals, where he finished tied for sixth among all players with 12 assists in 18 games.
Heading in to this season with the understanding that this would be his final kick at the junior hockey can, Hardie set out to prove himself again, this time as an offensive leader.
“I wanted to stick around here; I thought in my mind that I’d been traded enough. I’d been on enough teams and I just wanted to stay here,” explained Hardie. “I love the guys here, I love the coaching staff, and I’ve been able to elevate my game because of those people. I owe a lot of credit to my linemates for helping me on a hell of a run this year.”
A hell of a run quickly became an understatement. This season Hardie recorded two separate point streaks of nine games or more, and leads the Islanders with 34 goals and 76 points with two games left in the regular season. He’s quick to credit the coaching staff for unlocking his scoring potential.
“They’re all pretty old-school guys.” Hardie said regarding Hulton, Brad Mackenzie, and Guy Girouard. “They have the mindset that it isn’t just given to you, you have to work and earn it. I think that’s why we’ve had so much success since I’ve been in Charlottetown.”
“Whether it’s in practice, whether it’s video, or whether it’s in the gym. On or off the ice, you have to earn it. It’s been engraved in our minds.”
Hulton says the potential was always there, and it was something a little more simplistic that led to Hardie’s success.
“To me it’s just opportunity,” started Hulton. “Dan has always thought the game well offensively, but a lot of times in your first seasons in the league you’re stuck in a different role. You have to earn ice time through defensive play. For us, it was providing Daniel an opportunity and encouraging him to be the offensive guy that he’s always been.”
As his final major junior regular season winds down, Hardie has had a number of memorable moments in his short time here. Like many on last year’s team, he’s quick to point to the 2018 playoffs as the most memorable. While the memories of Game 6 against Blainville stick out for most, the memory he holds closest is a little different.
“The big third period in Game 7 in the first round was huge. We were down one, and I just remember coming out in the third and we exploded for five goals. The bench was just going nuts; we had no idea what was going on.” said Hardie.
When speaking on his success, Hardie credits many people for helping him get there, namely a pair of coaches back in Georgetown: His Georgetown Raiders coach Greg Walters and his midget hockey coach Mike MacPherson
“That conversation Greg and I had about coming east, we butted heads a bit, but throughout that whole year I developed so much.” said Hardie. “I think he’s too good a coach to be at the Jr. A level, I appreciate everything he did for me there.”
“Even to this day, Mike is still working for me and working to get me opportunities. Those two names really stick out to me and I appreciate everything they’ve done.”
Having been a member of three junior teams in a different area of Canada, Hardie’s had his share of billet families, and said the MacLernan family have been a major piece of his experience here in Charlottetown.
“People don’t realize how important of a role billet families play in our careers and in our lives,” said Hardie. “I love going home. I love talking to them, I love getting to know them more, and I love hanging out with the kids. I hope we can stay in touch afterwards.”
Finally, Hardie says he would never have made the move to the Q if it weren’t for the support of his parents, Steve and Karen.
“Once the opportunity came about in Rimouski, my mom and dad were all for it. They just kept saying ‘Keep working. Your chance is going to come,’ and that’s what happened.”
“My parents were a big reason behind my decision and I couldn’t be more thankful for them.”
Twice passed over in the OHL Draft, Daniel Hardie will finish his regular season major junior career with 181 games and over 167 points. In Charlottetown alone, Hardie needs just one more point in his final two games to finish with 100 as an Islander. He finds himself 8th in Islanders history in points, an impressive feat for a player who spent a season and a half on PEI.
“Looking back, it was the best decision I ever made,” said Hardie on the move to the Q. “I’m happy to be in Charlottetown to finish it out.”
For players that find themselves in a position that he once did, Hardie has one piece of simple advice:
“Don’t ever think that you’re done. Don’t think that just because you don’t get drafted, that you get cut once, that you’re done. There’s a lot of opportunities out there; you need to stand out to one person and you’ll get your shot. You gotta really work at it and never quit.”