The dream of playing professional hockey. Notice how I didn’t say NHL hockey? With just over 700 jobs in any given season, many of which are occupied by veterans and future stars, the dream of playing in the National Hockey League is a hard one to make a reality.
As a coach, I’ve had the privilege of sharing the ice with many talented players. One of them is defenceman Michael D’Orazio of Richmond Hill Ontario, Canada. Naturally, he aspired to play in “the show”, but his journey didn’t lead him there. Instead, he found his way overseas to the land of Kilts and Haggis – Edinburgh, Scotland. This is not a cautionary tale, rather one that will hopefully help aspiring talents expand their mindset and realize there are incredible opportunities outside of the NHL.
Professional Hockey Dreams
How The Journey Began
Q – When did you start playing hockey?
Michael D’Orazio (“Raz”) – I started to play hockey when I was six-years-old. I started to skate when I was five-years-old.
Q – At what age did you make it to AAA?
Raz – I played for the Richmond Hill Stars Super 7s which kind of was like AAA but for kids that were 7-8 years old. But I didn’t officially play AAA hockey until I was in Atom.
Q – What was it like to be drafted into the Ontario Hockey League by The Owen Sound Attack?
Raz – It was a great feeling at the time. I remember sitting around the computer with my family and when my name finally popped up it was great to share with them. My family put a lot of resources and work into my hockey ability. It was great to see it pay off.
Q – You were eventually traded to the London Knights and awarded the ‘C’ on your sweater. How did that feel?
Raz – Playing for the London Knights was a true honour. The way the Hunters (coaching/management) run that organization is second to none. Total professionals and their track record speaks for itself. Wearing a ‘C’ in London is something special. Not many people get to do it, especially for such a storied franchise. It was a great feeling, something I still relish to this day and probably for the rest of my life.
Q – The OHL offers an education fund. How did that help you towards attending Saint Mary’s University in Nova Scotia?
Raz – I wouldn’t change my time in the OHL for anything. Obviously early on in my OHL career, I was expected to make the jump to the NHL, therefore thinking about my school package was a rarity. However, later on in my OHL career when the NHL plans didn’t pan out, I started to weigh my options.
Through the OHL I had a great school package that would eventually pay for my whole undergraduate degree. At the time you don’t realize how huge that is, but when you actually get to University and see the amount of debt students accumulate, you really get to appreciate the opportunity the OHL has given you for your time. It really does make it all worth it.
Not Getting Drafted to The NHL
Q – Tough one now…you did not end up getting drafted to the NHL. How did you handle that?
Raz – It was tough for sure. Being only 17 years old at the time it is a lot to handle, and I was in a really dark place for a while because of it. I was drafted to the OHL 8th overall. I was expected to get drafted to the NHL in the 1st round. I played for U-17 Team Ontario with the likes of Steven Stamkos, Nazem Kadri, Alex Pietrangelo, and Michael Del Zotto. I played U-18 Team Canada being the best 18-year-old players in Canada at that time. I ended up not even getting drafted to the NHL at all.
The draft was in Ottawa. I figured it was really close so I would go and see what it had to offer. I sat in the stands with Stefan Della Rovere, and my late minor hockey coach and good friend Tyler Cragg. I sat there for 6 rounds waiting to hear my name. I was dressed in a suit sitting there and saw six rounds go past. My buddy Stefan got drafted with the ninth last pick of the draft. I was happy for him, but I will never forget the feeling I had when that last pick of the seventh round got announced and it wasn’t me.
I went straight to the car while Stefan went to go meet the Washington Capitals brass. Two minutes later I got a call from Stefan saying Washington wants to talk to you. I told him I had no time for jokes, as I was saying that their head scout took over Stefan’s phone and told me they would like to invite me to development and training camp. Within the next hour, I had four or five teams wanting me to go to their training camps.
It was a tough day for sure. For me, at that age, it really bothered me mentally. I thought of it each and every day for a long time. To tell you the truth I really didn’t get over it until my 2nd year at Saint Mary’s University. Looking back now, I got to attend three NHL main training camps in Los Angeles, San Jose and St. Louis and those were great experiences. But I am thankful I took the route I did because even if I made it to the NHL, chances and statistics show that it probably wouldn’t have lasted long. I would have been without education and probably in the same position I am now in terms of professional hockey, without a degree to show for it and for sure wouldn’t be doing my Masters in Business Administration. Everything happens for a reason.
Q – We all grew up dreaming of playing in “The Show”. Once you were faced the reality that the dream wasn’t attainable, you ended up deciding to play professional hockey for the Edinburgh Capitals of the British Elite Ice Hockey League. What drove your decision to play there over other countries?
Raz – Following my last year at Saint Mary’s University I knew I wanted to go and play professional hockey somewhere. At this point in my career, I didn’t really want to go to the ECHL and ride buses for 20 hours at a time and possibly get traded to three different teams in the same season travelling all over the states. It’s a tough life in that league. I could have maybe got called up the AHL a couple times and still keep the dream alive, but I knew my chances of making the NHL now were slim to none. Once I got offered a contract by Edinburgh in the UK, and they offered an MBA as well I jumped on it. To live in Europe and have the opportunity to do a Masters and travel the world was a no-brainer for me.
Q – When I visited Scotland, just about everyone there claims they, invented our game. How often have you heard that?
Raz – I actually have never heard that (haha). To tell you the truth the game has a lot of progress to do in the UK. Most people here do not even know what Ice Hockey is. In saying that, some markets in the league attract a consistent 6000-8000 fans a game.
Q – What’s it like playing in a country not exactly known for puck?
Raz – I love it. There is less pressure and it gives me an opportunity to share my wealth of hockey knowledge with those who are passionate about the game but have not really had the opportunity to be around it the way I have.
Q – Not only are you a player, you are now the head coach of the Edinburgh Capitals. How long did it take a teammate to call you Slap Shot’s “Reggie Dunlop”?
Raz – We fired our coach in December and I was asked to take over. I said, “why not?” I knew I had the skills and I was lucky to have been coached by many who have coached or who are currently coaching in the NHL. I think I called myself Reggie Dunlop before anyone else did (haha).
Q – You are also continuing your schooling with the MBA program at the Edinburgh Business School, Heriot-Watt University. How do you balance your career and education?
Raz – It is definitely tough. Especially now that I am coaching, attending school as well as playing. I guess it is just about time management. I have a calendar next to my desk and I have my days laid out pretty well. I like having a plan and being prepared for what’s ahead.
Q – There are many young talented players in the game, but with just over 700 jobs in the NHL, how important is it for them to know that the dream doesn’t need to be limited to the show? Any Advice for Younger Players?
Raz – It is so important. When I was young, I thought it was making it to the NHL or failure. And oh boy was I ever wrong. But it took me a long time to realize there is a lot more to life than hockey, and also there is a lot more to hockey than just the NHL.
Hockey has given me an undergraduate degree, the ability to travel the world, the ability to get my MBA and the ability to meet so many great people at each stop in my hockey career. Friendships that will last a lifetime. When I choose to finally retire without living my NHL dream, hockey will not owe me a thing. It has given me so much.
Q – What is the pay structure like, and what benefits – room/board/gear/per diem – are offered where you are playing?
Raz – Well you get paid every two weeks. Depends on your contract but my apartment and bills are paid for, I have my own vehicle that is also paid for. My MBA is paid for. On average guys in this league won’t make much money. But you have to realize what the opportunity cost of taking a “free” MBA is. I’d say on average guys in this league make anywhere for 400-1400 British pounds ($700 – $2500 CDN) a week.
Q – Finally, up until 2017 Haggis was illegal in Canada for 46 years (who knew!?) Have you tried it? and if so, did you like it?
Raz – Someone actually told me that this year and I had no idea. Yes, I have tried it and to tell you the truth i’m not a big fan.
Stick tap to “Raz” for taking the time to share his experiences. Hopefully, his journey helps broaden the dream from the NHL, to playing professional hockey.
For the record? I rather enjoyed Haggis.
Embed from Getty Images