Graduation: Sam McGinley
Sam McGinley’s parents never had to had to fight to get their son to hockey practice. In fact, it was quite the opposite.
“Usually, they would threaten not to let me to go practice if I was misbehaving,” he laughed. “Very quickly I would get my act together whenever they played that card.”
As he got older, McGinley was calling his parents nearly every day from school because he didn’t feel well.
While they initially thought he was trying to get out of school, they eventually discovered that he had celiac disease.
“I would call her and tell her that I felt terrible and she needed to come get me,” he said. “She would tell me if I wanted to go to practice that night I had to stay at school. At first, we thought it was a dairy allergy so I stopped having milk or cheese, but I still felt awful. So we got blood tests done and that’s when we discovered it was celiac.”
Celiac disease is a chronic digestive and immune disorder that damages the small intestine, triggered by eating foods containing gluten, which is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye.
The stomach issues were under control after that, which came in time for McGinley to prepare for the WHL Prospects Draft.
Growing up in Calgary, McGinley says he attended a few Hitmen games but his love for hockey was mostly stoked by the Flames, especially considering the players who lived near him.
“Jarome Iginla lived pretty close to my neighborhood,” he said. “You’d see him at restaurants around there, and guys like Craig Conroy, Jay Bouwmeester. It was just cool to see their careers right in your hometown.”
While playing for the U15 Calgary Royals in 2016-17, McGinley says he didn’t think the WHL was really on his radar.
“We had a great team, so many guys that ended up playing for a lot of years afterwards,” he said. “We had guys like (Winnipeg ICE defenceman) Ben Zloty, and he was just as good then as he is now. I wasn’t the best player then. I didn’t play a ton and I wasn’t the fasted player. The first time I talked to a WHL team was at the Alberta Cup, and then the draft was right after that.”
McGinley followed the draft on his phone, congratulating his friends as they got picked, before being shocked to see his own name appear at 92nd overall to the Regina Pats.
“It caught me straight off guard,” he admitted. “I really wasn’t prepared for it. Then the phone calls started rolling in and my parents were getting phone calls. But it was pretty cool to get to experience it.”
The Regina Pats hosted the Memorial Cup in 2018, so when McGinley attended his first WHL camp he had to lineup against some elite players on the other side.
That first training camp produced a memory that will stick with him for the rest of his life.
“I remember going one-on-one with Sam Steel and he lost the puck,” McGinley said. “I was just over the moon. After that practice I ran up to my dad and was like ‘I stopped him! I stopped him!’. There we so many good players at that camp. It was a pretty incredible experience, seeing all these top players battling as hard as they could during training camp.”
At the end of camp, the Pats offered McGinley a Scholarship and Development Agreement, which he and his family mulled over for a few weeks before ultimately deciding to sign.
McGinley then moved to the CSSHL ranks for the 2017-18 season, staying close to home but playing for the U16 Edge School Prep team.
After recording 10 points (5-5-10) during his draft season, McGinley shot up to 40 points (7-33-40) the following season, though he admits there was a huge driving force behind that jump.
“Realistically? Honestly? I would say it was because of my defence partner Jake Sanderson,” he admitted. “When you’ve got someone who’s now in the NHL as your D partner, it’s pretty easy to play hockey. He’s been that good as long as I can remember. He thinks the game so well, such a smooth skater. We had a coach that allowed me to play the game I always wanted to, and when you know you have their support and your families support behind you, that helps out a ton.”
Sanderson would go on to be drafted fifth overall by the Ottawa Senators in the 2020 NHL Draft and has 31 points (4-27-31) in 76 games in the NHL this season.
Returning to the Queen City in the fall of 2018, McGinley wasn’t fully healthy and wasn’t able to participate in most of the Pats training camp.
Ultimately, he would return to Edge School and play for the U18 team in 2018-19, a decision he thinks worked out as good as it possibly could.
“Looking back on it, I’m really glad I went back and played there,” he said. “I just got to grow and become a better player and person while having a successful year with a team that deserved it.”
McGinley’s offensive production followed him to the U18 level with 29 points (10-19-29) in 29 games.
He also appeared in three games with the Pats that season, ironically enough, the first of which came in Swift Current.
“It was pretty funny that my first game was there,” he said. “Standing in that tunnel, now that I’ve been on the other side for so long, it’s kind of funny looking back on it now.”
Looking to make the jump to the WHL full time in 2019-20, McGinley’s training camp once again got off to a rocky start as he wasn’t able to participate in most of the camp due to injury concerns.
Thinking he might have a torn labrum, the Pats held McGinley out of on-ice action until they were sure he was able to compete with no risk. He says he spent a lot of time during that camp with a future teammate of his, as Drew Englot was recovering from surgery at the same time.
Once cleared for game action, McGinley’s season got off to a tough start as the Pats struggled out of the gate, going 2-12-2 over their first 16 games.
“I got into eight games, but I wasn’t playing much and I wasn’t doing well,” he said. “My confidence wasn’t there. I missed basically all of camp to get ready for the year, and then I get traded to Swift Current.”
It’s easy to say now that the move to the Broncos was a wise one for McGinley, but it’s tough to tell a 16-year-old that at the time as the trade brought mixed emotions.
“It was weird,” he said. “I was really happy, but really sad at the same time. Leaving some of the friends that I had in Regina and knowing only one guy on Swift Current (Billy Sowa). I knew I had an opportunity to start fresh.”
McGinley would eventually score his first WHL goal against his former team, recording three points in a 7-5 Broncos win on January 3, 2020.
That night was one of the few bright spots in a season that was tough for everyone involved with the Broncos.
“Being 17 and going through that kind of season wasn’t ideal,” he said. “You can get into a lot of bad habits that way. But we had a lot of guys who really cared on that team. Guys like Isaac Poulter, Aiden Bulych, Raphael Pelletier, Eric Houk. They cared and they really showed it. Our older guys like Hayden Ostir and Jaxan Kaluski too. They helped you see what it was like but not get comfortable with it. You look back on it and I’m glad I went through it. I learned lessons that I don’t think I would have learned if I wasn’t in that position.”
After nearly a year-long offseason, McGinley was thrilled to head to Regina for the hub season, just to get back into a routine again.
While he admits he was hoping to provide more offence than he did, the Hub season caught the attention of NHL scouts as McGinley would be invited to St. Louis Blues rookie camp ahead of the 2021-22 season.
“St. Louis was different,” he said. “Unbelievable facility, unbelievable staff. They just treated everyone so well. They definitely lit a fire underneath me that I think I needed. The way they ran things really set the bar high for my own expectations. It just made me want to be there. I want the chance to play at that level, no matter how long it takes me.”
McGinley parlayed that fire into a career year in 2021-22, posting 21 points (7-14-21) while playing a key role at both ends of the rink for the Broncos.
He says there was an obvious change in the approach of the team from when he first arrived.
“You could just tell with the group that was in there that nothing was going to come lightly,” he said. “Everyone in that room had something to prove, and you either proved it or you didn’t. As close as we came to getting to the playoffs, you could just see how well the team performed individually.”
McGinley’s career year led to yet another NHL invite, this time from the Carolina Hurricanes.
Much like his experience in St. Louis the year prior, his time in Raleigh did nothing but stoke the fires of McGinley’s determination.
“They treated everyone like we were their own,” he said. “The way they run things there is so different. Their mindsets are all the same: they want to win and they’re going to work as hard as they have to to do that. Getting a chance to play at PNC Arena was incredible. I have nothing but great things to say about everyone there and that entire organization.”
The expectations were certainly raised for the 2022-23 Broncos, with all the players dead-set on reaching the playoffs for the first time since 2017-18.
McGinley said it was a year of ups and downs.
“I think that was something we struggled with a lot,” he admitted. “Some days you didn’t know which team you were going to get. I think in the end that’s kind of what cost us. I believe in the team, I believe in the coaches, I just think they need to believe in themselves.”
Much like the year prior, the Broncos playoff hopes came down to the final weekend of the season. A home-and-home with the Medicine Hat Tigers determined who would get the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
The Broncos took care of business in the first game, winning 3-1. It was a game and a night that McGinley says he’ll never forget.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better last game at the InnovationPlex,” he said. “The fans showed up. There’s not really any words that I can explain about how it felt to go through that. Seeing the season ticket holders that I had seen in there for years, it was a special feeling.”
The win set the stage for a winner-take-all scenario in Medicine Hat the next night, with the Broncos needing a regulation win and the Tigers needing a win of any kind to secure the playoff spot.
The game couldn’t have started much better for the Broncos as they jumped ahead 2-0 after the opening 20 minutes.
“It’s the last game of the season and things were going to get emotional,” he said. “It was just a matter of how we were going to handle that. You could tell we wanted it, nobody really gave up. We just had some moments where things got away from us and that’s what cost us. You just hope that guys can learn from it and grow from it.”
The Tigers scored four straight goals before the Broncos got to within one, but ultimately dropped a 4-3 game to see their season come to an end.
The emotions couldn’t be contained after the final buzzer.
“That final buzzer rang and guys were coming up to me giving me hugs,” he said. “Spending those final moments on the bench I realized there was still a lot of Swift Current fans there cheering us on so I gave them a wave. It made me really emotional. I’m getting emotional just talking about it now. It was something I had never experienced before in my life and something that I will cherish forever.
“Those fans in Swift Current are just so amazing. They are so kind and so caring. They just want what’s best for the team. I’d give anything to go back and play another year for those fans and give them a playoff run that they deserve.”
With the Swift Current chapter of his life now over, McGinley had a hard time answering what the city means to him.
“Where do I even begin?” he said. “My billets, Larissa and Garret Gader and the kids Jaden and Austyn, those are some of the best people I’ve ever met in my life. They will be part of my family forever. They’ve seen me go through so much and supported me through everything. Our team chaplain, Nathan Weibe, he’s helped me through so many tough times.
“Talking to the people around Swift Current, everyone is so generous and kind. I’ve never met someone there who’s put anyone down. I never thought I’d be living in Swift Current when I was 20 years old, but man am I happy I did. I’ve created friendships that will last a lifetime and I’m very sad that it’s over.”
McGinley is preparing for the next stage of his life, deciding on which university he’s going to attend this fall, but he will be keeping close tabs on how his former team is doing.
“They can do something special next year, there’s no doubt in my mind,” he said. “With that core group of guys they have and the guys that want to win, that team is going to be special. They’re going to be one of the top teams in the Central, one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference and one of the top teams in the league. If they do what I know they can do, and put in the work over the summer, I’d be going to a lot of games in Swift Current.”