Thousands of kids dream about playing in the National Hockey League, but only a small percentage make it to that level.
While much has been written about the players who have become immortalized in hockey lore – like Gretzky, Lemieux, Howe and Roy – Matt McCoy, born and raised in Prince Rupert, has written a book to tell the tale of those who dream big but never set foot on NHL ice.
The Kid Who Missed the Bus blends reality with fiction as it follows Danny Boy through the ranks of small town hockey, junior hockey and professional hockey in Europe. Danny Boy isn’t a real person and the people in the stories have been changed for legal reasons, but the entire story is based on true events.
“Over the years, from the time I started playing junior hockey, I had a lot of funny things happen to me. I would bring those stories back to the boys in Prince Rupert and they always said, ‘you need to put this in a book’… It mimics what happened in my life, but uses a character to tell the story,” he said, adding the title is a bit of a play on words.
“The fact that I didn’t make the NHL is the reason I chose to title it The Kid Who Missed the Bus… But growing up in Prince Rupert I lived right across from the rink and every weekend I would see rep players leaving on a bus. When you see the bus leave and you’re not on it, it’s annoying as hell and it made me want to be a better player.”
McCoy left Prince Rupert in 1988 at the age of 15 to pursue his career with the Victoria Cougars, choosing to play for the Cougar’s farm team in Nanaimo to keep his scholarship hopes alive. But he said the life wasn’t as glamorous as people think, with daily pressure to perform in school, on the ice and adapt to the families that billets the players.
“I would go back to Prince Rupert and people would say, ‘he’s playing semi-pro hockey, it must be an easy life’. That’s a load of crap because the pressure you face everyday couldn’t be greater,” he said.
“When I left Prince Rupert I was doing well in hockey, my confidence was high and I was a big fish in a little pond. When you go to play junior hockey, you’re a little fish in a huge pond… When you go, at age 15 when you’re at home you’re hanging out with people your age, but in juniors you’re hanging out with 19 and 21-year-olds and it’s easy to get caught up in the wrong lifestyle.”
After moving around the country, from Nanaimo to Kelowna to Penticton to Saskatchewan, McCoy took a break from hockey to get a business degree in school. But after playing some professional roller hockey for the Vancouver Voodoo he was offered the chance to play ice hockey professionally in Europe and the U.S.. His career then took him to Denmark, England, Germany and Texas, where a knee injury ended his career. McCoy hopes his experiences will show people a different side of the sport so many love.
“It’s not your typical hockey story. It’s about a guy who wanted to get to the NHL but didn’t make it and his journey along the way,” he said, adding that coverage of the book has included ESPN, TSN, Sportsnet and sport-talk radio stations across the country.
“It’s a great read, but it’s not a kid’s book. It’s an adult book because there are some colourful stories in there… There’s a lot of stories about escapades off the ice along the journey. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea.”
With his hockey career now behind him, McCoy reflects kindly on his time in Prince Rupert, mentioning coaches and mentors like Bart Kuntz.
“The Kuntz family was a big inspiration, Bart led the way in terms of playing in the juniors, Mino Verde really inspired me to be a better player and as a young aspiring hockey player I looked up to Ronny Johnston who used to play for the Kings,” he said, adding that his parents, brother and sister were also inspirations.
“Prince Rupert is a great place, and the people are just so supportive,” he said.
As for advice for young players, McCoy said education is key.
“If you’re a top tier player, really top tier, go to major junior. If not, get a scholarship and go to school,” he said.
“When you’re young everything is about hockey, but you need to be able to look long-term down the road.”
For more on the book, visit www.thekidwhomissedthebus.com. The book is also available at Barnes and Knoble on Amazon and through the Kobo e-reader.