April 14, 2006

McKee Follows Path of Great Cornell Goalies

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Cornell has had its share of great goalies.

Ken Dryden led the Red to a national championship in 1966-67. By 1970, he was a full-time law student at McGill in Montreal but also played pro hockey. He would read the Civil Codes of Quebec on road trips. Somehow, he squeezed in time to play 397 NHL games and win six Stanley Cups.

Dryden is now in the Hockey Hall of Fame. If you want his rookie card in high-end condition, it’s selling for $200 today on Ebay.

Brian Hayward graduated from Cornell in 1982 with a degree in business management. He played four years in net for the Red and was named an All-American in his senior year. He went on to the NHL, winning 33 games for the old Winnipeg Jets in 1983-84 and later at Montreal would share the Jennings Trophy with Patrick Roy.

Hayward today is a TV hockey announcer in Anaheim. He worked for NBC as a color analyst for the Torino Olympics. His rookie cards for Winnipeg cost about five bucks on Ebay.

Next year, there will be another rookie card for another Cornell goalie – David McKee of the Anaheim Ducks. Unlike Dryden and Hayward, McKee has not graduated. When the Red completed its season this year, its Hobey Baker finalist goalie dropped out of school and signed a pro hockey contract.

McKee was all-everything at Cornell. He holds the University records for most shutouts (18) and most consecutive starts by a goalie (102). He was a first-team All-American in 2005 and boasts a .926 career save percentage.

We caught up with him last week at Anaheim Ice – the Ducks’ practice facility – to ask whether quitting school for the Bigs was worth it.

First, we found out McKee is scared. We sat in the Ducks locker room next to McKee and a toothless Teemu Selanne. McKee – the picture of poise and confidence at Lynah – seemed overwhelmed by the rapid transition from college to the pros.

Now he is the Ducks third goalie – behind Giguere and Ilya. “Hopefully nothing will happen to them,” McKee said with a chuckle, “because I don’t think I’m ready just yet.”

But secondly McKee is lucky. He has left Ithaca’s storied winters for a land of sunshine and ocean breezes. He plans to get a condo in the O.C. for the summer. He will be making riches playing the sport that he loves.

“This is definitely a dream come true; I thought it would never happen,” McKee said. “When you get this opportunity, you don’t pass it up.”

Yet, some athletes have passed up the pros in favor of school. Matt Leinart famously decided to forego the NFL for his senior year at USC. Jack Johnson, the third overall pick in the 2005 NHL draft, chose the University of Michigan over the Carolina Hurricanes for this past season.

Leinart said his life was perfect at USC and he had no desire to leave early. He knew the NFL dollars would be there after he finished his degree. Of course, Los Angeles and Ithaca can be very different places. But McKee had plenty of reasons to stick around.

“Leaving Cornell was the toughest decision I have ever had to make,” McKee said. “The biggest thing was leaving my friends and my girlfriend behind. I felt like a deserter.”

McKee will now be living in what some call Occupied Mexico – something not altogether unfamiliar to the Texas native. Southern California is a land where Arte Moreno owns the baseball team and Antonio Villaraigosa is the mayor. On La Cienega, the clubs blast the rhythms of Shakira on infinite repeat. A half-million Latino protestors were out on Interstate 5 on David’s first day with the Ducks.

So much for the culture shock. It is still hockey and the puck is still the same size as at Cornell. And the Ducks are in the playoffs. Being David McKee today is not a bad deal.

We don’t know if he will return to Cornell to get his degree, but our guess is he will continue to follow in the footsteps of Dryden and Hayward. Prudent collectors will be saving McKee’s rookie cards.

Kyle Sheahen is a Sun Senior Editor. The Ultimate Trip will appear every other Friday this semester.

Archived article by Kyle Sheahen