(Photo: Ottawa Senators)
While people often associate hockey players with Canada, there are definitely certain provinces more known for generating players than others. It’s normal to find a handful of players from Ontario when scanning any given NHL roster. It’s also not unusual to find players from other provinces like British Columbia or Quebec. But, what about Newfoundland? As a province in Canada, you might assume it has generated a number of players in the NHL as well. In reality, there are only a small number of Newfoundlanders currently on NHL rosters.
One such player is Colin Greening. Greening is a 6’3 forward with the Ottawa Senators and he comes from St. John’s, Newfoundland. The sport is big in Greening’s hometown but his story about how he got into hockey is a little funnier than some of the other stories out there.
“Growing up, hockey was big in Newfoundland. My older brother decided when he was 7 years old that he wanted to start playing hockey and there was a deal where if you signed up one kid, the second kid was $50. My dad is a sucker for a deal and thought why not?” Greening said with a laugh. “I was a very energetic kid growing up and my parents always wanted to put me in something to alleviate some of the energy so I would be tired when I came but. But that’s how I got my start.”
While a lot of kids in Canada probably try out hockey for the first time around that age, hearing Greening joke about the way he got into the sport is definitely interesting. Growing up in Newfoundland, Greening also had a different take on his favorite player than some other NHL players.
“I always wanted to be a player like Doug Gilmour. In St. John’s, we had the St. John’s Maple Leafs so I followed that team and keep following players as they went up to Toronto,” Greening said. “I loved the way Doug Gilmour played. He was a scrappy player with skill and he was a smart guy that was a good leader. I always really liked watching him play. Whenever I could be someone in street hockey, it was him.”
From the way he got his start, it is obvious to see that hockey was something the whole Greening family was involved in. Had it not been for his brother’s interest, Greening would not have gotten his start when he did. But, there is more than just involvement from the two brothers. It really is a sport where everyone in the family has to be on board and supportive.
“Hockey is a full family affair for sure. Whether or not you start off being interested in the game, it’s such a time commitment for the parents. My parents followed hockey growing up, but this was different,” said Greening. “It’s a lot of early mornings, drop offs and pick ups, and spending time in a cold rink. It’s definitely trying sometimes as a parent. As a player, I’m engaged in the game and I’m working hard so I don’t notice the cold. But when I think back, the parents are sitting there watching, that can be long and it can be cold.”
Through everything that his parents have done for him, Greening cannot help but be thankful. Although he might not have realized as much when he was younger, now that he’s getting married and thinking of starting a family himself, it’s definitely something he appreciates.
“You have to be thankful for your parents. Hockey is not a cheap sport to begin with so there are a lot of sacrifices families have to make to put their kids in hockey in the first place. It’s a lot of time commitment,” Greening said. “Looking back now, you might not appreciate it when you’re 5 or 6 years old. But as you get older, you start thinking about all the sacrifices they made and everything they did to get you to where you are now. You really appreciate it.”
For that reason, they are also the people he cites as being two of his biggest off-ice inspirations. It is not just the sacrifice, though. Considering the amount of time and money his parents put into allowing Greening to follow his dream, it is natural to wonder if they also pressured him to continue playing the sport. That was never the case for him, though.
“One thing I really respect about them was that they did not push hockey on me. The dynamic of parenting seems to be changing and I see a lot of parents really pushing hockey on their kids. I don’t really agree with that,” Greening said. “My parents always told me school was first and then I could focus on hockey after. They let me play all sorts of other sports. There’s something to say about parents like mine that are only worried about whether or not their kid likes the sport.”
When asked about off-ice inspirations, Greening also shared one other person that had a big impact on him. The story is much sadder but it is obvious that Greening’s friend left a big impact on him. One of his friends growing up passed away from cancer two years ago but left a real mark.
“The other off-ice inspiration of mine would be a friend of mine who, unfortunately, passed away from cancer. What I really respected about his was his mentality and his demeanor through all of it. It was pretty inspirational to see something like that,” Greening remembered. “About two or three weeks before he passed away, he was living in Calgary and I flew out with a couple friends. We knew it would be the last time we ever saw him and even though the cancer had really changed his physical appearance, he was exactly the same guy. To this day, I always look at what he did during his last 7 months as something we all can aspire to.”
As Greening grew up, he was not able to play as many sports and had to start making decisions. While his parents shared their thoughts about what he should do, they made it clear that it was his decision about what he wanted to do.
“When I got to 15 or 16 years old, I felt that was the point where you had to start making some difficult decisions. I had options to go pursue major junior hockey or go pursue a school route. My parents had a positive influence on me. If I had the option to go play at a university, we all thought it was a good opportunity,” said Greening. “They gave me their opinion but they always told me that I had to be comfortable with the decision. I think that’s what led me to go to college hockey. At that age, I still hadn’t really grown into my body yet. I knew if I wanted to have a chance at playing professionally, I had to get a little bigger which would take more time.
Greening chose to go the college route and played his hockey at Cornell University. He talked about how exciting it was for both him and his parents. Not only did he pick college hockey, he picked an Ivy League school.
“It was tough at times to balance the curriculum at Cornell. I consider myself lucky to go to have gone to school at Cornell. They had a lot of resources for me to utilize. It can be tough. I was a kid that grew up in Newfoundland and hadn’t heard of what an Ivy League school was, so the fact that I got to attend one was a very big deal for me. I pushed myself as hard as I could,” Greening said. “When I went to Cornell, I had two years of school at Upper Canada College in Toronto. I learned good time management skills there and learned how to study and work. That was important. I think it benefitted me that I was two years older than the rest of the students. It takes a lot of balancing skills to be an athlete at a school.”
After college, Greening joined the Ottawa Senators organization. He has been with that organization since finishing school, except for a short stint in Denmark during the most recent NHL lockout. Ottawa is a great hockey city, a fact that is not lost on him.
“I think playing in Ottawa speaks for itself being a Canadian city and the focus there is on hockey in Canada. They’re so supportive of the team. There’s something to be said about playing under the kind of pressure that can sometimes bring. It makes you rise to the occasion,” said Greening. “You get such great fan support here which makes you try that much harder. We’re either sold out or almost sold out every single game and that’s fantastic. I really enjoy playing for the Senators.”
When Greening joined the Senators organization after college, he spent some time with the Binghamton Senators in the AHL. But it was in that first season that he got his first NHL call-up. That was something he will never forget.
“There have been a few accomplishments that really stick out for me. Making the NHL and playing in my first game was such an unbelievable experience for me. The whole setting was really exciting. I got to play my first game in my first season with the Senators organization,” Greening said. “It was a real treat. Just to be able to say I’m playing in the NHL is a big deal. Right now, I’m one of 7 Newfoundlanders that are playing in the NHL. That’s a big deal for me to be able to represent my family and my home province when I play. All of that together would probably be what I consider my greatest accomplishment.”
Fans might be used to seeing Greening on the ice in Ottawa now that he’s got a few seasons under his belt, but some are curious about what he does outside of games. As a private person, Greening does not make much use of social media. But, he still keeps busy outside of games.
“One of the things I really like about Ottawa is that I love to go out and explore to see what the city has to offer. I love to spend time with my fiancée and I love to meet the fans. I love going to charity events. I’m an outgoing guy but I’m introverted too so I like to have time to myself sometimes. But I love to laugh and I love to try new things and explore.”
Greening will be back in Ottawa this season on the first year of a three-year deal. Fans can look forward to watching him play and hopefully giving them a reason to cheer in Ottawa.