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Newfoundlanders are the nicest people I have ever met in all my travels.

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I was thinking about that when Canadiens GM Kent Hughes acquired Alex Newhook from the Colorado Avalanche on June 27 in exchange for a first-round pick (31st overall) and a second-round pick (37th overall) at the next day’s NHL Draft, along with minor-league defenceman Gianni Fairbrother.

What makes Newfoundlanders so nice?

“We’re a pretty small province,” Paula said over the phone from St. John’s Monday evening. “As islanders, Newfoundlanders have been known to live off the land. It’s a big fishing province. I think people are always just out to help each other in good times and bad and I think that sort of projects out now to anyone who comes here. Newfoundlanders love to have people come to visit. We went through 9/11 when we had many of the planes grounded here (in Gander). We’re always ones to open our doors and have people in and show them a good Newfoundland time.”
But Newfoundland isn’t the best place to live if you’re a talented, young hockey player, because there isn’t enough high-level competition. That’s why Newhook left home at age 14 to attend St. Andrew’s College in Aurora, Ont. He spent two years there before moving to British Columbia, where he lived with his aunt, Kelly Newhook, and played for the BCHL’s Victoria Grizzlies.

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Newhook was named rookie of the year his first season in the BCHL and was MVP his second season, when he had 38-64-102 totals in 53 games. The Avalanche were impressed enough to take Newhook in the first round (16th overall) of the 2019 NHL Draft, one pick after the Canadiens selected Cole Caufield.
Newhook is one of only eight Newfoundlanders ever selected in the first round of the NHL Draft, joining Keith Brown (seventh overall by the Chicago Blackhawks in 1979), John Slaney (ninth overall by the Washington Capitals in 1990), Terry Ryan (eighth overall by the Canadiens in 1995), Brad Brown (18th overall by the Canadiens in 1994), Daniel Cleary (13th overall by the Blackhawks in 1997), Dawson Mercer (18th overall by the New Jersey Devils in 2020) and Zach Dean (30th overall by the Vegas Golden Knights in 2021). Newhook will become only the fifth Newfoundlander to play for the Canadiens, joining Ryan, Brown, Michael Ryder and Darren Langdon.

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Newhook played two seasons at Boston College before making his NHL debut with Colorado in 2021 and he was part of the Avalanche team that won the Stanley Cup the next year. Newhook brought the Cup back home to St. John’s to celebrate with his family and he was at the family home when he learned the Avalanche had traded him to the Canadiens after he posted 14-16-30 totals in 82 games last season.

“He didn’t really see it coming,” Newhook’s father said. “We were in the kitchen talking about the possibility he could get traded. He wasn’t sure. He went downstairs and came back upstairs five minutes later and said: ‘Dad, I just got traded.’ ”

Newhook’s dream of playing in the NHL started soon after he learned to skate at age 4. But watching her son leave home at 14 to pursue that dream wasn’t easy for Paula.

“It was really hard,” she said. “Alex came to us wanting to go (to St. Andrew’s College) for Grade 9 and at the beginning we said no. But by the third time he came and asked and said: ‘This is what I really want to do,’ we thought: You know what? We’ll give it a shot and we’ll help him to apply. But it was always his dream to go.

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“Who wants their child at 14 to move away?” Paula asked. “Definitely emotional to not have your child at home. But I remember saying to Shawn: ‘How could we not have let him go?’ He was a happy child every day of his life. With the personality he has, he’s very level-headed, there’s no drama. He had said many times he just wants to be a better hockey player every day. Watching him go through the years and seeing him do what he could do, it became that I think we weren’t ready. I think he was always ready. I think it was more if we had not let him go it would have been us standing in the way of him finding his dream.”

Newhook will now continue to live his dream in Montreal.

“He’s just a nice kid,” Paula said. “He’s a really level-headed, kind child. There’s no drama. He just wants to play hockey and he’s very welcoming to everybody.”

A true Newfoundlander.

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