Halifax has a long history of hockey. There are claims that the first hockey game ever recorded was played in Montreal on March 3, 1875, using “Halifax Hockey Club Rules.” Starr skates were the first mass-produced skates, made in the Halifax region. The Coloured Hockey League, which made advancements in the sport’s rules and style of play was founded in the city in 1895. All this to say, Halifax is a hockey town in its core.
The Halifax Mooseheads got their start as a Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) expansion franchise in 1994 as the first Atlantic province location to get a QMJHL franchise one year after the Quebec Nordiques decided to move their AHL affiliate Halifax Citadels to Cornwall, Ontario and rename them the Aces. Since that inaugural season, the Mooseheads have had many great players come through their ranks, and some have gone on to NHL stardom.
In this article, we will count down the top five Halifax Moosehead players. But, before we begin counting down, honourable mentions go out to the most offensively prolific and the most beloved player to wear the Moosehead logo.
HM – Brandon Benedict
Benedict, a five-foot-nine center, joined the Mooseheads in 1998 after being drafted 17th overall in the QMJHL entry draft. He played five full seasons with the club between 1998 and 2003 finishing his QMJHL career with 119 goals and 184 assists in 343 games played (GP), all with Halifax. He remains the Mooseheads’ all-time leader in several major categories: games played, goals, assists and points.
Brandon displayed a gritty, hard-working style that endeared him to fans. His on-ice leadership helped lead the Mooseheads to a semi-final berth in the 2000 Memorial Cup, hosted in Halifax. The team lost 6-3 to the Ontario Hockey League champs Barrie Colts, and it took the Mooseheads 13 years to make another appearance in the tournament.
HM2 – Jody Shelley
Some may wonder why is Shelley on this list, why an enforcer would make it over players like Jakub Voracek or Nikolaj Ehlers? In the history of the franchise, no one has been as instantly popular as the Yarmouth, NS native Jody Shelley. His hard-nosed team-first style and his willingness to defend his team from all challengers made him an instant favourite. When Shelley was invited to the Mooseheads’ inaugural training camp, he had never fought before.
His impact was felt instantly. One of only four Maritimers on the Moose, he helped to create space on the ice to allow his linemates to generate offence. The Mooseheads made the playoffs every season he was on the team as Shelley set franchise records for penalty minutes (PIM) every season. He finished his three-year QMJHL career as the Mooseheads’ all-time leader in PIM with 933 in 183 GP.
One of only three Mooseheads to have their number retired, he was more than just an enforcer, he was a good player who went on to have a successful NHL career as a fan favorite. After retiring from hockey, his popularity continues as part of the broadcast team for the Columbus Blue Jackets.
5 – Ladislav Nagy
Nagy joined the Mooseheads for only one season in 1998 after being selected 28th in the Canadian Hockey League (CHL) import draft. Already selected in the 1997 NHL Draft as a seventh-round pick by the St. Louis Blues, the Slovakian winger was highly touted as a natural goal scorer, and he didn’t disappoint in Halifax. Nagy scored 71 goals that season which is still a Mooseheads single-season record. He also led Slovakia to a World Junior Championship bronze medal that season.
Nagy finished his only season in the QMJHL as the league’s Rookie of the Year, top goal scorer and top offensive player as well as being named to the CHL All-Rookie Team. He moved to the professional ranks and enjoyed a long NHL career playing with the Blues, Arizona Coyotes, Dallas Stars and Los Angeles Kings. He also starred internationally in Europe in the KHL and various Slovakian leagues as well as for Slovakia on the international stage in World Championships and Olympic games until his retirement in 2019.
4 – Jonathan Drouin
Drouin was selected second overall in 2011 by Halifax, behind his eventual Mooseheads teammate, Nathan Mackinnon. After remaining with the Lac St-Louis Midget AAA team for half a season, general manager Cam Russell convinced Drouin to join Halifax and play on a line with Mackinnon. The two instantly gelled and led the Mooseheads to a QMJHL semi-final series against the Quebec Remparts, though they lost.
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Drouin was also an integral piece of the Mooseheads’ 2013 Memorial Cup championship and one of the most prolific offensive weapons in team history scoring 242 points in 128 regular-season games. He also stepped up his game in the playoffs with 102 points in 50 GP.
Drouin was selected third overall in 2013 by the Tampa Bay Lightning and is currently playing with his hometown Montreal Canadiens.
3 – Alex Tanguay
Tanguay, along with Shelley, is one of only three players to have his number retired by Halifax. He played three seasons with the Mooseheads between 1996 and 1999 and ranks fourth on the all-time list of goals scored with 101. In 152 games, he scored 214 points.
Tanguay was selected 12th overall by Colorado Avalanche and went on to a prolific NHL career with Colorado, the Calgary Flames, Montreal Canadiens and Arizona Coyotes. He won the Stanley Cup in 2001 and scored the Cup-clinching goal for the Avs.
2 – Jean-Sebastien Giguere
There have been goaltenders with better career numbers for the Mooseheads, but Jean-Sebastian Giguere tops the list as the franchise’s first goaltender and backstopped an expansion team to the playoffs. His no. 47 was retired by the organization, one of only three retired by the club. Tanguay and Shelley, as mentioned, were the other two. He led Halifax to a playoff berth in each of his two seasons with the club.
Giguere was drafted 13th overall by the Hartford Whalers in 1995 and went on to have a storied NHL career. He delivered a virtuoso goaltending performance during the 2003 Playoffs to lead the underdog Anaheim Ducks to the Stanley Cup Final. He won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP despite that he was on the losing team and became only the fifth player to achieve that honour. In 2007, he won the Stanley Cup with the Ducks.
1 – Nathan MacKinnon
Cole Harbour, NS native “Nate the Great” was touted early on as the next Sidney Crosby. Selected first overall by Baie-Comeau in the 2011 QMJHL draft, it took a massive deal for general manager Cam Russell to bring the local star home. It was worth the cost as MacKinnon led Halifax to its first-ever Memorial Cup Championship in 2013 playing on a line with Drouin.
MacKinnon played only two seasons for the Mooseheads, scoring 153 points in 104 GP, including 13 points in 4 games at the 2013 Memorial Cup tournament. That same year, he was selected first overall by the Avalanche and won the 2014 Calder Trophy as the NHL’s top rookie. He has become a star center in the NHL.
In the franchise’s 26 years, there have been 32 players who graduated to the NHL. The Mooseheads have become well known for their scouting, and ability to draft and develop great teams and players. There have been many great players who have played for Halifax making a list like this very difficult to complete. The list will no doubt cause some debate among the Mooseheads faithful.
I have been a writer covering the NHL and the Montreal Canadiens for over 6 years. I am also currently a 27+ year veteran of the Canadian Armed Forces