Portland Pirates v Bridgeport Sound TigersIn Canada, growing up playing hockey is usually a given. Kids start skating shortly after they learn to walk and dream of someday playing in the NHL. For most of them, that path starts in one of the major junior leagues. The biggest factor in what league a player goes to is where he grows up. If you’re from any of the provinces in the West, you will most likely end up in the WHL. It can be a good place to learn toughness and a good place for skilled players to show off their scoring talents.

That was exactly the case for Brendan Shinnimin. The 5’10 native of Winnipeg is a prospect for the Phoenix Coyotes now but he got his start playing his junior career in the WHL for the Tri-City Americans. From an early age, hockey meant everything to him.

“I started skating when I was almost two and a half years old then started playing when I was three and a half. Ever since I was a kid, I just breathed hockey,” Shinnimin said. “I was put into skates at an early age. My dad thought that’s what he wanted me to do and I have to thank him for it now.”

Looking back, Shinnimin is definitely thankful for his dad giving him an early start. He recognizes he probably wouldn’t be where he is today without that start. Both of his parents were very supportive. But what he remembers more is a coach that shaped his whole career.“When I was playing midgets, I had a young coach who played in the Western Hockey League named Todd Davison. (check spelling). He passed away that year from cancer,” said Shinnimin. “He was a small player as well and he taught me a lot over the time I got to spend with him at midgets about being a smaller player. He taught me you have to work your hardest at all times and you can’t take shifts off. He was a pretty big influence. I always think back to things that he said. He always used to say believe in the goal.”

That was a lesson he took with him when he started playing in the WHL himself. Being a smaller, skilled player definitely had some advantages for him. He also learned a lot about being a hockey player in that league. It helped him transition to playing professionally later in his career.

“The Western League is probably one of the toughest junior leagues in the world. It’s pretty physical. For me in the WHL, I was a guy that put up numbers,” Shinnimin said. “Guys were after me every night and I got kind of used to having to take the abuse to make plays and score goals. That definitely prepared for the American Hockey League.”

While he put up numbers every season of his junior career, Shinnimin really impressed during his final year, when he played as a 20 year old. In 69 games, he registered 134 points to not only lead the WHL but the CHL as a whole.“Your teammates and line mates are a huge factor. Without them, you’re not going to be able to put up those types of numbers. I was having a lot of fun at the same time,” Shinnimin said. I wasn’t passing up shots and I was looking to shoot every chance I had. It led to a lot of goals and a lot of points. It was an accumulation of coming to the rink with the right mind set and your teammates helping you out.”Coming into that final season, Shinnimin had made the choice to remain in the WHL for one last season instead of joining the Coyotes’ AHL affiliate in Portland. It ended up being a good decision for him as he fine tuned his skills.“It gave me another opportunity to work on things. The coach there, Jim Hiller, was really helping me out with a lot of things both offensively and defensively. He gave me a lot tips for scoring and getting that quicker release,” said Shinnimin. “Going back as a 20 year old was a really good learning year for me and gave me that extra experience to jump into the American League.”

“I thought it was right to go back for my development and play that last year. I had a lot of fun with my team. I got to play with a bunch of my friends that I grew up playing hockey with back home. That helped with the success we had,” Shinnimin said.

While he was playing for the Tri-City Americans, he also had an experience that he says he regrets. During the 2010-2011 season, Shinnimin received a 12 game suspension as the result of a hit. He definitely is not a player known for that style of play and has not been that kind of player since. The suspension was something he understood. It was something he has worked to put behind him.

“It’s extremely important. People don’t realize how dangerous hockey is and how fast guys are moving or how hard shots are. They do their best to control the hitting and determine what’s a legal hit and what isn’t. I experienced it first hand,” Shinnimin said. “It’s extremely important to keep the players safe to make it as enjoyable for the players and the fans as well. They’ve done a good job of progressing over the years with rule changes to make the game not only fast and exciting, but safe.”

Unfortunately, during his time in the WHL, Shinnimin did not hear his name called at an NHL draft. That was not something that he was going to let stop him, though. When he signed an entry level deal with Phoenix, he could not have been happier. He did not let getting overlooked stop him from working hard.

“A lot of guys get passed up on at the draft and think their hockey is over. For me, it’s kind of my whole career. I’ve been passed up on like in the bantam draft. I was passed on in the NHL draft all 3 years,” said Shinnimin. “I thought if I continued to get better, someone would give me a chance somewhere. It happened to be Phoenix. To sign and NHL contract is a dream come true. I wouldn’t have changed anything or done it any other way.”

shinniminFor the 2012-2013 season, Shinnimin spent his first professional season with the Portland Pirates in the AHL. While he was not able to put up the same numbers as he did in juniors, he advanced his game and worked on adapting to the pro game. Hopefully what he learned in his first season will help him score more going forward.

“It’s harder to score in the American League. I learned that this year. If you want to score, you have to get your shots off quicker and make decisions a split second earlier,” Shinnimin said. “That was something I worked on all year and continue to work on even this summer. I have to work on that quicker release and I think that’s a huge factor in scoring goals at the pro level.”

Coming out of the WHL definitely has advantages but it did not mean there Shinnimin did not have to adjust. In juniors he was playing against 16-20 year olds. Now he plays against guys who, in some cases, have been in the pro game 8 or 9 years. For a smaller player, it can be a challenge at times.

“I would definitely say there was a bit of a learning curve. Obviously guys are a lot bigger and stronger, so I had to adapt to that. They’re a lot faster and the game is played at faster speeds. You have to make decisions quicker,” Shinnimin said. “As a player like me, going after pucks in the corner, I have to be quicker and make quicker plays. Those were probably the biggest transitions for me going into my first year.”

Even with Shinnimin being a rookie adjusting to the league, he still made an impact on the ice. He was the kind of player that other teams paid attention to on the ice. He came away with 12 goals and 21 assists during 74 games.

“That’s my goal every shift is to be threat and create a scoring chance. I want to give our team the best chance of scoring every time I’m out there. I want to have an impact to help us win,” Shinnimin said.

With one professional season under his belt, he now has a better idea of what he needs to work on. This coming season, Shinnimin will continue to work hard to hopes to get into a game with Phoenix. He has learned that hard work can take him far.

“Strength is always important. I need to get more explosive and be quicker,” Shinnimin said of his offseason training. “I’ve been working on that. I’ve also been working on my shot and a quick release. I think that’s also extremely important. My main thing would be explosiveness and quickness.”

For the 2013-2014 season, Shinnimin will hope to improve on his rookie season. It will likely be a little easier now that he knows what to expect from the professional game. Although he was called up to Phoenix once this past year, it was only for a brief camp when the lockout ended. This season, his goal will be to play in the NHL.

A New England girl, born and raised, Jessica Higham has grown up loving few things more than hockey. Although she has never considered herself to be a good skater, she fell in love with hockey back when boys still had cooties and that love has only grown since. She genuinely wishes she had been alive to enjoy ‘Miracle on Ice’ and considers it to be one of the greatest moments in US history. Nothing compares to the feeling of September coming and signaling the start of a new season, complete with a whole new set of ups and downs. After having been an avid reader and occasional writer, Jessica wanted to try putting the two loves together and writing about hockey. Aside from hockey, Jessica also loves music, going to concerts, animals, and walking on the beach. Email: jessica@thepinkpuck.com @JessicaHigham

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