While hockey is no longer the central focus of Nathan Green’s life the way it once was, its impact remains.
The former Brandon Wheat Kings forward, who played with the club for three seasons from 2006 to 2009, received a different kind of education as a teenager that’s proven to have great value.
“Hockey teaches you to be motivated,” Green said. “Especially playing junior hockey, you have to be a self starter. It prepares you to lead teams, whether you’re staying in competitive sports or in the work world. Not just being an assistant captain, but consistently being with a team day in and day out really gives you a sense of how people work and how they’re best motivated, and when to push and when not to push and when to have this conversation and when to have that one.
“It really teaches us when we’re young just to take care of ourselves and learn to push ourselves to be successful in whatever we do.”
Now 31, Green was born in Calgary, moving to Winnipeg with his family when he was three or four years old. He was on the ice at an early age in Calgary, and that interest blossomed in Manitoba. The family home came with a big lot, and his father Allan flooded a backyard rink starting when Nathan was seven.
Green and his brother Stephen grew up near his future Wheat Kings teammate Scott Glennie and his brother Don and the four spent a lot of time together on the ice.
“We all grew up playing hockey with each other in our backyards,” Green said. “The Glennies had a rink in theirs too so we would kind of go back and forth between our house and the Glennies.”
He started to play organized hockey at age six, lining up at forward for his entire career other than the odd turn in net in the early age groups. He’s grateful to his father and mother Gisele for the time and resources they invested in hockey.
“I’m extremely thankful,” Green said. “I’m not at that stage yet with my son — I have a two-and-a-half year old — so we haven’t got there quite yet but I know my parents spent a lot of money to put us through our hockey, whether that was fall and winter or spring and summer leagues.
“I never recall us ever having to ride with friends’ parents too often, or even having to use our grandparents a lot. My parents were pretty invested in both mine and my brother’s hockey careers when we were younger. They were definitely always there at the rink watching.”
At the time, the Wheat Kings were the sole Western Hockey League franchise, and Green had heard about them and even saw them play a couple of times. As he entered his draft year in 2004, he knew about Winnipeg players a year or two older who had been previously selected.
“You start to take notice of (the draft) around 13 or 14 and become aware of the team and where the teams are,” Green said. “You start hearing good and bad stories about them all so you start deciding which teams you may or may not want to go to.”
WHL scouts began to contact him, so his parents, who were very strict about his education, allowed him to take the afternoon off school to monitor the draft. Brandon took him 67th overall in the fourth round, which proved to be a popular decision in the Green household.
“Extremely excited,” Green said of the reaction. “I was just happy to go somewhere … To hear I was selected by the Wheat Kings was pretty surreal.”
At 16, Green failed to make the Wheat Kings and also the Manitoba Junior Hockey League’s Winnipeg South Blues, eventually landing back with the Winnipeg Wild of the Manitoba U18 AAA Hockey League.
It proved to be wildly beneficial. Green led the league in scoring with 83 points in 40 games on 34 goals and 49 assists. He attended the World U-17 Hockey Challenge with one of the Canadian teams, and even scored in one of the two MJHL games he played in.
“It was a huge year,” Green said. “The year kind of started out in disappointment. I didn’t think I was going to make the Wheat Kings as a 16-year-old and I don’t necessarily think my parents would have wanted me to start at that young age … It wasn’t a big shock when I was released from the Wheat Kings after training camp at 16 but I think I was expecting to make the Winnipeg South Blues that year as a 16-year-old and of course I did not.
“I remember being disappointed at the start of the year but I was able to talk to my dad and he assured me this would be the best thing, playing with the AAA Wild, and it ended up being the best thing for my progression.”
Green came to Brandon’s camp the next fall determined to make the club, and he did.
He admitted it was a big transition as he adjusted to life away from home with billets Kevin and Angela Holder, who he stayed with for all three years he was in Brandon.
“I definitely consider myself a home body,” said Green, who was in Grade 12 that year. “I’m definitely a little more on the reserved side and like my usual surroundings so it was different and a big change for me even though it was just a two-hour distance from home. When you’re 17, 18, 19, you have a big head and think you can take care of yourself and you think you know everything and you’re an adult.
“I look back at it now, and I realize how young you are and how overwhelming the experience can be.”
It was also tough on the ice. Green was in and out of the lineup in his rookie campaign, contributing three goals and three assists in 36 games in the 2006-07 season.
Thankfully, he and the other rookies, Cale Jefferies, Jay Fehr, Brandon Lockerby and Daniel Bartek, had older players they could lean on.
The Wheat Kings, who went 41-20-3-8 and lost in the Eastern Conference semifinal, were led by Codey Burki, Mark Derlago, Andrew Clark and older Swiss rookie Juraj Simek on a team assembled by then-owner and general manager Kelly McCrimmon.
“It was a great room,” Green said. “The team itself was very welcoming. It’s overwhelming coming in as a rookie. You definitely have to earn the respect of your teammates because so many young guys come and go pretty quick. Brandon has always had a history of guiding their young players in the right direction. Kelly picks the right leaders to be a part of those rooms so that the young guys can come into an environment where they feel like they can excel and they can be challenged.”
Green said the younger players looked up to the older guys and watched them closely.
A year earlier, it had been Green at the top of the lineup at the U18 level, and he said it was difficult at times to acknowledge and accept his new reality in the bottom six forwards battling for ice time.
“You’re young and you don’t necessarily have a good handle on your emotions,” Green said. “It took a while to understand my new role. I definitely had to learn the game and it was a bit of a process for me. I definitely struggled.”
He returned as an 18-year-old in the 2007-08 season to a Wheat Kings team that graduated six of its top seven scorers, and faced questions about who would create the offence.
It turned out Green was one of those pieces.
Skating the most with Czech import Daniel Bartek — with Jay Fehr, Del Cowan or Cale Jefferies in the other spot — Green blossomed with 15 goals and 26 assists in 69 games as he centred the third line.
“It was being a little more comfortable and little more confident and trusting yourself on the ice,” Green said. “Really, for me after that first year, that summer I thought there was really nowhere else to go for me but up.”
He was named the team’s most improved player, something he called a nice accolade.
Longtime Brandon fans will best remember the 2007-08 season for how the pre-season offensive concerns were fully addressed, as the team only scored five fewer goals than a year earlier. The three members of the Baby Blue Line all came in as rookies and finished in the top five in team scoring.
“It was the first year in a long time they said we might not make the playoffs and all that, and lo and behold, Brayden Schenn and Scott Glennie and Matt Calvert come out of training camp absolutely firing,” Green said. “That continued throughout the start of the season and they never looked back from that point. We went from being a rebuild era to potential contenders with how we were playing.”
Brandon actually won one more game than the year before, finishing 42-24-3-3, but the young team fell in six games in the opening round of the playoffs to the Lethbridge Hurricanes.
The Wheat Kings and Green made major strides again in the 2008-09 season. The Wheat Kings went 48-19-3-2, and Green contributed 24 goals and 35 assists in 72 games, skating with Aaron Lewadniuk and Cowan.
“When you’re older, you understand how to seize your opportunities properly,” Green said. “At 17, the opportunities I was given I didn’t take them, so of course I wasn’t given a lot of opportunities throughout the year. As an 18-year-old, maybe I seized them a little better and started to get a little more leash and opportunity from Kelly and I think that just kept going into my 19-year-old year. Again, a little more confidence.”
Each year the six-foot, 180-pound centre got older, he trained harder and developed a better understanding of what he needed to do to succeed.
In the 2009 playoffs, Green was terrific, piling up 14 points in 12 games as Brandon made it to the conference final before being swept by the Calgary Hitmen. He didn’t know it at the time, but it was his curtain call as a Wheat King.
With seven 19-year-olds on the roster and just three overage spots, the Wheat Kings moved Green to the Red Deer Rebels on June 30, 2009 during the Canadian Hockey League’s import draft. With Red Deer’s pick, Brandon selected Finnish forward Toni Rajala 14th overall as it prepared to host the 2010 Memorial Cup.
“I don’t think anything could have prepared me for that,” Green said. “I knew it was a possibility. Kelly let everybody know. We knew it, we had so many 19-year-olds on the team and there’s only space for three 20-year-olds.”
He was moving to a situation in Red Deer where they actively wanted him as an overager — and certainly more opportunities were in his future — but it was still a devastating day for Green.
“It was definitely one of the top five tough moments for me,” Green said. “I loved the city, I loved the people, I loved the team. For three years, that was where I spent 80 per cent of my time and those guys I played with are my best friends. It didn’t make it easier that a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of playing in a Memorial Cup was on the line. It was a difficult summer.
“Even when I was in Red Deer, it was still in the back of my mind. It still weighs on me. I truly wish I had an opportunity to be part of that team but it’s just not how things work sometimes.”
Nevertheless, Green played well in Red Deer. In his first 25 games, he had nine goals and 13 assists, including a goal and two assists in his return to Brandon on Oct. 2, 2009, a 6-3 Red Deer victory.
Unfortunately, disaster struck on Nov. 22 when a linesman fell on his leg during a 3-1 loss to the Medicine Hat Tigers.
It came on the last play of the game when a Tiger took a run at Green and he took exception to it by dropping his gloves.
“As the one ref was breaking it up — he may or may not have a little overzealous — the linesman and the Medicine Hat player fell on top of me,” Green said. “I fell on my left leg in a funny way and snapped it in half. That was nasty.”
Green had surgery on the fractured leg in late November, and began skating in February but had swelling issues. He finally played again on March 12, three-and-a-half months and 45 games after he hurt himself, getting into two contests at the end of the season and all four in the playoffs as the Rebels were swept in the first round.
“It was very tough,” Green said. “In your 20-year-old year, for most guys you’re not sitting there thinking it’s your last chance because most guys have pro aspirations moving on from the WHL. I definitely did.
“I had a really good opportunity in Red Deer. I was getting a ton of playing time, I was linemates with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and another great player there at the time named Willie Coetzee. We had some good chemistry going and my game was kind of excelling at that point. I knew I had a good opportunity to get noticed and then the injury happens.”
He admitted he favoured the leg when he returned, and wishes he had taken the rehab process more seriously.
“I can truthfully say that I didn’t give myself the opportunity to come back playing as strong as I could have,” Green said. “That’s definitely a learning experience.”
He decided after the injury he likely couldn’t make an ECHL roster, so he chose school over minor pro hockey, picking Acadia University over several other suitors. The X-Men were a comfortable choice in part because his former Brandon teammate and good friend Andrew Clark was there and put in a good word for him.
He thoroughly enjoyed a completely different life experience.
“It was just super cool to be out there,” Green said. “I had never been that far east before and to be right on the ocean in a small, very historic old town was pretty cool, and the university itself was a great place.”
Even though he enjoyed it, he wasn’t happy with his hockey season — in 19 games in the 2010-11 campaign, he had a goal and an assist — and was a long way from home. He didn’t return, entering the University of Manitoba instead in the fall of 2011.
“My passion for hockey kind of waned after being out at Acadia,” Green said. “I started to realize that maybe playing the sport at a high level wasn’t in the cards for me anymore and I missed home.”
He redshirted that season and began skating with the Bisons in the fall of 2012. He was offered a spot after the pre-season but ultimately decided his hockey career was over and concentrated instead on his sociology degree with a minor in management. He graduated in 2015.
Green worked as a sales representative for UPS for nine months and then landed a job with Molson Coors Beverage Company. He is currently Manitoba’s field sales manager, looking after the five sales reps. His boss’s boss is former Wheat King Greg Hutchings.
His personal life has also worked out nicely.
Green and his wife Kaylee have son Holt, with a second baby due this summer.
He still skates occasionally on outdoor rinks but hasn’t played organized hockey since his university career ended, although he jokes he still sometimes views himself as a teenager getting ready for his next game.
Regardless, hockey’s impact continues to resonate in his life.
“I would definitely say some of my best life lessons were learned in that dressing room, on the bus, on the ice,” Green said. “You forge some great relationships that unfortunately over time as people get busier and people move on with their families and their lives, you don’t keep in touch with people you used to be great friends with, but all the memories are with you forever.”