Paula Newhook remembers it like it was yesterday. Her two children, Alex and Abby Newhook, were playing organized hockey on a team together for the first and only time in their lives.
It was an Atom championship game in Nova Scotia that saw her two kids lead their team to a thrilling 7–6 victory. Older brother Alex had six of the seven goals, but the other one belonged to Abby. It was either the fourth or fifth marker scored by the Newhook siblings’ squad, Paula recalls, but judging by Alex’s reaction it may as well have been an overtime winner in the Stanley Cup Final.
“Alex actually skated across the ice and picked her up,” said Paula. “He picked her up, swung her around and it was super cool.”
Maybe even cooler is the fact that eight years later Alex, now 18, and Abby, 16, share a bond that’s as strong as ever. Fueled by their collective love of the game, it’s a bond that’s had to extend itself as both players chase their hockey dreams across the continent.
Born and raised in St. John’s, N.L., where Rogers Hometown Hockey makes a stop this Sunday, Alex and Abby share the unique distinction of carrying their home province’s hockey dreams atop their young shoulders. Never was this more clear than on June 21, 2019, when the Colorado Avalanche picked Alex with the 16th overall selection in the NHL Draft. In that moment, he became just the 41st man from Newfoundland and Labrador to hear his name called.
The path to that point was a windy one. Like many elite NHL prospects, Alex dominated as a youth hockey player, blessed with seemingly natural skating ability, hockey sense and athleticism. The game came easy to him.
Only, he didn’t want easy. And so, before his 14th birthday, Alex began researching St. Andrew’s prep school in Aurora, Ont., a destination that would allow him to play high-level hockey against better competition.
“Alex approached us in Grade 8 and asked if he could go away,” said Paula. “Our first response was, ‘No, Alex, not right now — maybe in high school.’”
So Alex tried two more times. On the third time, he asked, “Can we at least apply?” They did, and he got in.
“Then we really had to sit down as a family and ask, ‘Is this something that we are willing to do?'” said Paula. “Alex was a very mature kid, and as a family we kind of thought, ‘You know what? Sure. We’ll give it a go and we’ll see what happens.’”
Then 14, Alex left in August. By Christmas that year, the Newhook family knew they’d made the right decision. Alex excelled at St. Andrew’s, but where he really took off was on the ice. Playing for the York Simcoe Express Minor Midget triple-A team in the 2016-17 season, Alex put up 74 points and 43 goals in just 33 games.
“He saw stuff that the Regular Joe didn’t see,” said Mike De Pellegrin, Alex’s coach at York Simcoe. “His hockey sense, his ability to see plays develop, to see ice open up and make something out of nothing was exceptional.”
De Pellegrin pushed Alex to recognize his own talent, and be more assertive on the ice.
“He was such a humble kid that we almost had to pull it out of him,” said De Pellegrin. “Sometimes, for the success of the team … you’ve gotta be a little bit selfish and you’ve gotta come out of it and take control of the game. He had, obviously, the skill set to do that.”
And in drawing out more assertiveness in Alex, it not only helped with the team’s success — it also helped Alex’s stock in the eyes of scouts in multiple leagues.
Jerry York, head coach of the Boston College men’s hockey team, first heard Alex’s name when he was still playing in St. John’s. But he didn’t see Alex play until he made the trip to Toronto to watch De Pellegrin’s York Simcoe squad.
“Right off the bat you could tell he had acceleration. He had a great understanding of how to play the game just by moving the puck and making the correct read,” said York. “And then when you get a chance to meet him, he’s a terrific young man in terms of personality and he’s well liked by all his teammates.”
The interest between Boston College and Alex was mutual. And though the Halifax Mooseheads drafted him 41st overall in the 2017 QMJHL Entry Draft, Alex opted to go the NCAA hockey route. So instead of heading back to Atlantic Canada, he ended up going the opposite direction — to Victoria, B.C., to join the BCHL’s Grizzlies.
“After two years at St. Andrew’s he decided that he wanted to bump up the level of competition a little bit but still wanted to keep his NCAA eligibility,” said Shawn Newhook, Alex’s father.
“So that was another big debate,” said Paula. “Again, with me and Shawn, I think we were like, ‘Well, wait now, I think we need to make sure that a 16-year-old is making the right decision.’ Like, ‘We’re the parents and we need to make sure this is right.’ But at the end of the day that’s what he wanted to do and he did.”
It was during this time with the Grizzlies that Alex became the NHL Draft prospect he ultimately turned into. Across two seasons, he put up 168 points in 98 games played, with 102 alone coming during the 2018–19 campaign, and developed an pro-ready routine.
“He never has a bad meal,” Grizzlies coach Craig Didmon. “He’s (always) thinking about what’s the best thing for his athletic diet. He’s gonna be in bed early and give himself every opportunity to be the best player. He lives very committed to what he’s after.”
That commitment eventually led him to the Avalanche, who scouted him extensively before pulling the trigger in the middle of the first round.
“[He’s] got skill, hockey sense, plays with speed, is fearless, goes to the areas of the ice that some people don’t like going. He’s a guy that goes into traffic,” said Alan Hepple, the Avalanche’s director of amateur scouting. “And then off the ice, he’s just as good a person as he is a hockey player.”
Hepple describes Alex as “the whole package.” But, to hear Alex himself tell it, another Newhook may someday be an even bigger star.
At the draft, Alex filled out a questionnaire to help people get to know him better. It was an opportunity to showcase himself, but instead he decided to put some serious respect on his sister’s name.
“Not a lot of people know that I … have a sister who is better than me at hockey,” Alex wrote.
— NHL (@NHL) June 22, 2019
The significance of the move was not lost on Abby.
“It’s just crazy for him to take a moment like that focused on him and turn it to someone else, especially his sister,” said Abby. “It’s so cool that he thought of me in that moment.”
Following a similar path to her brother, Abby moved to Marion, Mass., last season to attend Tabor Academy, a prep school that’s only about an hour away from Boston College — where she herself will begin attending in 2021.
Dating back to that year she played with Alex at Atom level, Abby had always played with boys – even captaining her Bantam triple-A team when she was in Grade 9 – but she knew she’d eventually have to make the leap to girls’ hockey.
“Going into Grade 10, really, she knew she had to make the transition,” said Paula. “Like, she loves the aspect of checking in the game, and it worked for her in Bantam. But going into Midget, when there’s a two-, three-year age gap…. She had to find girls’ hockey that was really up to her level, and so that’s why she chose to go down to the Boston area.”
At Tabor, Abby experienced an adjustment period in terms of balancing hockey and academics, but on the ice, she stepped in seamlessly.
“She came right in as a 15-year-old last year at a highly competitive level,” said Eric Long, Tabor’s girls’ varsity hockey head coach. “She’s a really top-end talent in our league.”
Given that Abby held her own against teams mostly comprised of 17- and 18-year-olds, Long is bullish on her potential.
“She will create a scoring chance or do something good on every shift,” said Long. “She’s not one of those kids that floats around. You’ll look at the stat sheet and she’ll have two goals and you’ll be like, ‘How does she only have two goals?’ Every time she’s out there something good is happening.”
Long has had the opportunity to coach a couple under-18 gold medalists recently in Sammy Davis and Kelly Browne, the latter a sophomore at Boston College. He sees a lot of the characteristics he saw in those players in Abby, who has her eyes on cracking Canada’s under-18 national team in the summer of 2020 and eventually becoming an Olympian.
“She’s as good or better than those kids, for sure,” said Long. “So I hope she’s in that conversation [to make the Canadian under-18 team] because I know she’s working really hard and I know she’s a top-level kid.”
Alex and Abby have traversed nearly parallel paths to try to accomplish their shared dreams. It’s a path they’ll continue to walk together.
“Even to this day people say, ‘I can’t believe they’re so close,’” said Paula. “But I think it’s the total mutual respect for the game, and I think they appreciate each others’ talents and definitely encourage each other all the time. It’s a bond that they’ve always had and is awesome.”