Happy Canada Day, once again, to my Canadian readers. This is getting to be a bit of a tradition now that I've referenced Canada Day on the actual day the last three years.
Tell me, non-Canadians, what's the first thing you think of when someone mentions "Canada"?
If you didn't respond with "hockey," you need to try again. Hockey is such a Canadian institution that if someone were to tell me that a famous athlete from Canada never played hockey, I'd be more surprised by that than just about anything.
Even professional baseball players from Canada played hockey before they made baseball their career choice. Larry Walker, one of the greatest baseball players to ever come out of Canada, wanted to be a goalie in the NHL when he was growing up. One of his childhood friends was Boston Bruins great Cam Neely.
Walker never played professional hockey. But there are several MLB players who were drafted by an NHL team, played in pro hockey leagues and were damn, good hockey players before baseball took over. It's a little unusual, because most baseball two-sport stars are baseball/football or baseball/basketball. But the quirkiness is what makes it interesting to me.
I decided to assemble an all-star starting hockey team from Major League Baseball players. These are MLB players who were so good at the sport of hockey, they came close to NHL careers or could have had an NHL career if they didn't veer into baseball.
This team features three forwards, two defensemen, a goalie and a coach. I stuck with only players for which I have cards. For the players I selected, none were defensemen in their hockey careers, so I just picked the two biggest guys and put them on defense. They'll adjust. They're hockey players.
OK, here is your Canada Day all-baseball hockey team:
Forward: Tom Glavine
Glavine is well-known for his hockey skill. He was drafted by the L.A. Kings as the 69th overall pick in 1984. Raised in Massachusetts, a state whose hockey passion is rivaled only by Minnesota and Michigan, he was a three-time all-conference forward for Billerica Memorial High School. He actually played in an ECHL game after his baseball career ended.
Foward: Kirk McCaskill
The son of a pro hockey player, McCaskill grew up all over the U.S., but he was born in Kapuskasing, Ontario. He played both hockey and baseball and chose the University of Vermont so he could play both in college. He was a Hobey Baker Award finalist with Vermont in 1982 and drafted by the NHL's Winnipeg Jets. He was also drafted by MLB's California Angels. He played hockey professionally for the Sherbrooke Jets of the AHL for a season before switching to pro baseball.
Forward: Nyjer Morgan
Morgan grew up a hockey fan in San Francisco and played the sport throughout his youth. He progressed on the ice all the way to Major Junior hockey with the Regina Pats of the Western Hockey League. He didn't play a lot for them and the next season he concentrated on his baseball career. The man known as "Tony Plush" in baseball said he was called "Flash Morgan" during his hockey career.
Defenseman: Jamie Hoffmann
Hoffmann is from New Ulm, Minnesota, a place known for producing baseball players more than NHL players. But Hoffmann focused on hockey because he didn't think baseball was interested in him. No major league team drafted him, but the Carolina Hurricanes selected him in the eighth round of the 2003 draft. Hoffmann played in the U.S. Hockey League, but he was later signed by the Dodgers and stuck with baseball. He appeared in just 16 major league games. You can see that Bowman misspells Hoffman's name but at least they mention on the back that he "planned to attend Colorado College to play pucks."
Defenseman: Richie Hebner
Hebner, another Massachusetts kid, is known more for his grave-digging offseason job than his hockey ability. A hockey and baseball star in Norwood, Mass., he was offered a contract by the Boston Bruins. But Hebner decided to sign with the Pittsburgh Pirates instead.
Goalie: Justin Morneau
Finally, a full-time Canadian on the team! Morneau grew up outside of Vancouver, British Columbia, and played goalie throughout his childhood. His favorite player was Andy Moog. He advanced as far as a brief appearance in junior hockey with the Portland Winter Hawks in the Western Hockey League. But he knew he was better at baseball.
Coach: Joe Morgan
Morgan grew up in Walpole, Mass., and played hockey for Boston College. He was the team captain as a junior, but then signed a baseball contract with the Boston Braves.
So that's the all-baseball hockey team. My apologies to Fergie Jenkins, Corey Koskie and a couple of lesser knowns -- Dennis Ribant and Tom Quinlan -- who were very, very good hockey players.
Enjoy the rest of your Canada Day. I hope you're not reading this from your hotel room after a shopping spree in the States.