Former NHL player turns to music after retiring from sport

Jacob Robinson

By Jacob Robinson, Simcoe Reformer

Former NHLer Kraig Nienhuis will be performing at the Bushstock music festival on Aug. 25 (Handout)

Former NHLer Kraig Nienhuis will be performing at the Bushstock music festival on Aug. 25 (Handout)


While the Bushstock Music Festival is open to all, it feels tailor made for Kraig Nienhuis.

Nienhuis went from skating for a local house league team to the National Hockey League in a five-year span. After time spent with the Boston Bruins and a plethora of pro squads in both Europe and North America, Nienhuis turned his attention to his other passion – music.

The Sarnia native has spent his retirement from hockey playing for crowds across Canada, he even sang at a reunion for the Edmonton Oilers in 2014.

He'll perform on August 25 at Lakeside Vista in Port Ryerse, which is owned by his NHLPA buddy/Bushstock creator Ryan VandenBussche. Proceeds from the three-day event go towards Stix'N'Pix, a VandenBussche-led charity that aims to get area kids involved in both music and hockey.

“He's told me a lot about the energy (of the event) and the money that he puts into it so I want to support him and bring some (NHL) alumni out, some friends out and see what kind of party we can get mustered up,” Nienhuis said.

No one knows the kinds of doors both music and hockey can open quite like Nienhuis, who suited up for the Bruins over parts of three seasons from 1985-88 scoring 20 goals and 16 assists in 87 games.

“I know that it's a great cause because any type of energy a kid can spend having a purpose in either music or hockey nowadays is only a good thing because you find a lot of kids without any purpose and that's when the trouble begins,” the 56-year-old explained.

“I was lucky enough to reach a professional level at both, I realize how amazing it is and the opportunity to light that fire and plant that seed would be great.”

During his numerous musical gigs, Nienhuis hopes that any aspiring hockey players in the crowd can draw inspiration from his career path. He didn't play competitively until the age of 19 and eventually went on to attended Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute of the NCAA, winning a national title in 1985. Nienhuis was passed over at the NHL draft but still found a way to make an impression at the highest level.

“It's an obvious home run when a kid can see 'this guy didn't start when he was four years old like everybody' and 'this guy took an unorthodox avenue to get there and things can work out if you don't start until later',” Nienhuis said. “Any type of inspiration or purpose that I can give any kid is absolutely great ... hockey is something that will get them up and out and focused and give them a drive and a reason to look forward to the next day.”

Those in attendance for Nienhuis' set can expect music from several decades and genres. He says he'll feel out the audience and play what they want to hear, and don't be surprised if a few of them get invited on stage to belt out lyrics too.

“I play all kinds of fun songs,” he said. “I want everybody to participate.”

Tickets are available online at bushstock.ca.