The game of hockey and Nathan Chiarlitti will be forever connected.
Hockey has always been ‘more than just a game’ for Chiarlitti, the sport has ultimately shaped his life.
To some, hockey is a sacred institution, a way of life, a religion. That couldn’t be farther from the truth for Chiarlitti.
The native of Vaughan, Ontario had quiet humble beginnings in the game. “My earliest recollection of the game is going to Maple Community Centre Rink with my Dad,” Chiarlitti said.
“I was around four years old. I remember messing around on those support things that you hold when you are just learning to skate. After the skate we would just head back home and hang out and watch TV.”
Chiarlitti describes his introduction to the game as ‘relaxed and enjoyable,’ something that other kids growing up in the hockey-crazed obsessed Toronto area don’t usually say.
Chiarlitti wasn’t forced into the game, he grew to love the game on his own terms, a love affair that still exists today.
Chiarlitti has fond memories of watching local Junior B hockey action as a young boy. The Vaughn Vipers were the best show in town until his father took him to the mecca of hockey, Maple Leaf Gardens.
“Going to Maple Leaf Gardens would definitely be the earliest memory I have watching the game,” confessed the soft-spoken former defencemen.
“Going to the Gardens with my Dad was cool.”
“I remember watching, but I don’t know if I really paid attention, I guess I just wanted to hang out,” admitted Chiarlitti who was only four or five at the time.
Chiarlitti’s introduction to the game wasn’t atypical. A second generation Canadian, Chiarlitti’s grandparents emigrated from Italy in the 1960’s. His father and mother never played the game, so the idea of hockey being a ‘pressure cooker’ or “the be all, end all” for their son never existed.
Chiarlitti would forge his own path in the game.
His first experience watching the National Hockey League would solidify his newfound passion and love for the game.
The dream was realized. The young kid with Italian roots wanted to be a hockey player.
A Lasting Impression
Every player needs a mentor.
A guide, a trusted ally, someone to admire and look up to, but more importantly every player needs someone to help them develop on and off the ice.
Nathan Chiarlitti doesn’t hesitate when mentioning his mentors. “Louie Gialedakis and Steve Thomas. Both Louie and Steve were really important for me.”
“I’ve had some really amazing coaches throughout my career, but Louie and Steve were very influential.”
Thomas, a veteran of over 1,300 NHL games and Gialedakis combined to coach Chiarlitti for nine seasons during his minor hockey days. Those early days in the game are some of Chiarlitti’s fondest memories.
“Honestly, I’m realizing more now, coaches have such an opportunity for the growth of their players. If they foster that and encourage it, the players will just learn to love the game,” explained Chiarlitti who recently experienced his first foray into the coaching world.
“You don’t realize it in the moment, that you have this impact on players, but you do, it’s something that I definitely keep in the back of my mind.”
The Journey to the O
Nathan Chiarlitti’s journey to the Ontario Hockey League had it’s share of plot twists and certainly didn’t go as scripted.
Chiarlitti was projected to be selected in the first two rounds of the OHL’s Entry Draft, but fell to the 5th round.
Chiarlitti had always been a strong student so at the tender age of fifteen, he continued to weigh his options and didn’t want to close the door on a potential US College Scholarship.
“I was kind of hesitate about going to the O, I didn’t know if I wanted to try to get an NCAA Scholarship, so I was kind on the fence,” Chiarlitti said.
“I dropped a little bit, and ended up going in the last pick of the 5th round to Sarnia.”
From can’t miss defensive prospect to 5th round potential steal, Chiarlitti was eager to prove he belonged in the OHL, he certainly didn’t disappoint making the Sting as a sixteen year old.
Chiarlitti quickly embraced the life a major junior player, and drew inspiration from a future Hall of Famer. “We would take in a lot of Red Wing games being only about an hour away from Detroit. I thought Nicklas Lidstrom was an unbelievable hockey player.”
“Just watching him was an absolute pleasure, I really tried to mirror my game around his style of play.”
“He didn’t beat guys one on one, he wasn’t overly physical, he didn’t trash talk, he was just a well respected leader. I just remember thinking to myself; this guy is who I want to be,” Chiarlitti said.
Chiarlitti had arrived, the sky was the limit, he was playing in the Canadian Hockey League at 16 and contributing. The young defencemen believed he was one step closer to a linear path to the pros. The stars were starting to align for the young talented defender, unfortunately the sky would fall in his sophomore season.
Nathan Chiarlitti believed he was destine to be a professional hockey player, a childhood dream turned into a nightmare in the most important year of his life.
“My stats weren’t great in my first year, but I was projected to be a mid round draft pick to the NHL.”
Chiarlitti’s tone drastically changes when discussing the disappointment of his draft year.
“I just had a bad year.”
“The team didn’t have a good year, and I guess I never really recovered.”
For the first time in his life, Chiarlitti didn’t live up expectations. “It was a dagger,” Chiarlitti said of not being drafted.
“People thought I would make it.”
“I was supposed to make it.”
“I was groomed to be a professional hockey player.”
“When you fall short, you think you want it, you think you deserve it, and it just doesn’t happen, it’s tough.”
Devastated and discouraged Chiarlitti was forced to re-evaluate and reinvent his dreams and aspirations. “You pick yourself up and you work hard, you think you are going to get there and you don’t, you think you are going to have a good season and it just doesn’t come together.”
“I think it’s good that things didn’t work out, because it taught me a lot about perseverance and resiliency.”
Through it all Chiarlitti could always count on his family for support. “My parents weren’t the intimidating hockey crazed parents, they were relaxed and easy going.”
“I’m sure they lost a lot of sleep in my draft year, when things weren’t going my way and I wasn’t performing and upset.”
“It’s definitely not easy, but they were super supportive the entire way and I couldn’t have done it without them.”
Nathan Chiarlitti has never let adversity define him, if anything it fuelled him, and through all the ups and downs of his career, there was always a little extra motivation. “The older I have gotten the more I appreciate my roots,” Chiarlitti said.
“You hope that your grandparents and your parents are proud and happy.
“I don’t know if it’s right or wrong, but it wasn’t even playing hard for myself or doing it for personal accomplishment or accolades, it was doing it so they would be proud.”
“When you are working like that for someone else it gives you extra motivation.”
“It was definitely an inspiration for all they gave up to come here,” Chiarlitti said of his grandparents.
Chiarlitti played in the World Under 17 Hockey Challenge, U-18 Hockey Championship and would eventually suit up for Canada later on in his university career.
Putting the Maple Leaf on and representing his country was extra special for Chiarlitti, something that he will never forget.
After the disappointment of going undrafted and the regular ups and downs that confronts major junior players, Chiarlitti etched out a very solid junior career playing five years in the league, while balancing his studies and completing his first year of a Kinesiology degree from St. Francis Xavier University.
In all, Chiarlitti played in 341 games and amassed 90 points. “I didn’t appreciate it at the time, but it was experience,” explained Chiarlitti.
“I have a story about a bunch of guys on each team in the NHL, it’s incredible.
The stories are endless, the memories vivid. “Every night you were playing against someone that could potentially be in the NHL in two or three years down the road, it made the competition very exciting.”
With his professional aspirations in the rear-view mirror, Chiarlitti set his sights on his next journey in the game.
The kid from the north end of Toronto would be heading east in pursuit of his new dream.
The Big Break
The dream of reaching the NHL was over Nathan Chiarlitti, or was it?
After going undrafted Chiarlitti was in search of his big break, an opportunity to showcase his skill at the NHL level.
He had already committed to St. Francis Xavier University, but never really wanted to shut the door completely on a potential career in the pros.
Chiarlitti’s big break would finally come, after playing his final year in Owen Sound. “I got the invite to Arizona’s camp and I played pretty well,” Chiarlitti said.
“I scored in the first scrimmage, I was battling hard and competing.”
Unfortunately for Chiarlitti his time at the NHL level was short lived. “I ended up fracturing a bone in my foot blocking a shot in practice and that was it.”
As always Chiarlitti tried to focus on the positives and put things in perspective. “It was humbling because I realized that if I went to an NHL Camp three years earlier in my draft year, I would have been a fish out of water, I wouldn’t have been very good, I just didn’t have the speed or the confidence.”
“Sometimes we think we deserve to be somewhere, because we want it that bad and that we worked that hard, but it’s just not our time, we just have to keep working and battling, grinding and through perseverance it will happen.”
The Student-Athlete and a New Dream
After over 300 games in the OHL, Nathan Chiarlitti was more than ready to be a student-athlete and start chasing his new dream.
“I started to get the inkling in Sarnia, when I was injured,” Charilitti said of becoming a doctor.
“I’d hang out with some of the Docs, during that time, I was very interested in that area. When I had to make a decision in what courses to take at university and what programs to go into, I really convinced myself that I couldn’t do anything else.”
You could say academics and university sports were a match made in heaven for Nathan Chiarlitti.
In three seasons Chiarlitti played 84 games amassing 37 points. Chiarlitti’s journey at X cumulated with one of his best games of his life scoring two goals in Game 2 of the AUS Championship Series versus rival UNB.
The Xmen were AUS Champions and National Championship bound. Chiarlitti’s time at X was coming to an end he would continue to pursue his dream of being a doctor by taking a Masters Degree in Exercise Physiology at McGill University.
Chiarlitti’s time at McGill was also very successful.
In two seasons at McGill, the offensive minded defencemen amassed 29 points in 46 games, won a Queens Cup and had two consecutive National Championship appearances.
Chiarlitti’s success on the ice didn’t translate directly into Med. School.
Chiarlitti tried to take all the early rejections in stride. “I just took a beating.”
“If you want something bad enough, you will keep doing it no matter how many times you get rejected or how many challenges you face.”
“It was tough to stay true to that, especially when I didn’t get into medical school right away.”
Everyone has a story.
Sometimes the best stories are the ones that are in front of us everyday. Nathan Chiarlitti always enjoyed the writing process, but his next adventure in the game could be considered as a leap of faith.
After five years in the OHL, and five years in two different USports conferences, Nathan Chiarlitti was going to be an author? “The book took me about a month to write,” confessed Chiarlitti who wrote ‘More Than a Game’ while waiting to get accepted into Med. School.
“I sent it to a publishing company, they said they didn’t like it so I switched things around. I sent it to other people, changed things around and eventually sat on it for two months.”
“After all that I started to get the ball rolling to independently publish it.” As they say the rest is history. “I like the challenge of writing,” Chiarlitti said.
“Writing can be tough and you could bash your head against the wall sometimes, but there has always been something satisfying to me about sitting down writing your thoughts or writing a compelling argument.”
So the obvious questions remain what possessed Chiarlitti to write a book and what does he want the reader to take away? “The biggest take away from the book is that hockey or sport can teach you so many lessons about life that transcend the playing surface or in my case the rink.”
“A lot of the challenges and adversity that I faced in the game and the things I had to learn about myself and how to deal with certain situations or certain people in hockey apply to my everyday life,” confessed Chiarlitti who is currently attending the University of Ottawa.
“I know first hand how easy it is to lose perspective, of what hockey can teach you when in the moment you are worried about stats, scouts, agents, draft position, other players, but at the end of the day when your hockey career is done, and it will be done we are all going to walk away. It’s the lessons we learn, it’s the people we met and the memories we made that will ultimately shape our lives.”
Nathan Chiarlitti’s journey in the game has shaped his life, but more importantly his dreams.