January 30, 2004

Feeling Right at Home in Net

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One year ago, David LeNeveu ’05 was backstopping one of the most effective defenses in the history of college hockey. He was a sophomore on his way to the best statistical season of any goaltender in college hockey history. The future of the Cornell men’s hockey team appeared as bright as its present, continuing on the wings of LeNeveu’s dominance.

All that changed in June when LeNeveu agreed to sign a professional contract with the Phoenix Coyotes, the team that had drafted him a year earlier. Enter freshman David McKee.

McKee is an anomaly among hockey players. He is a native of Irving, Tex., a town better known as the home of the Dallas Cowboys. McKee never had much interest in hockey as a child, until his father brought him to the second game played by the Dallas Stars following the team’s departure from Minnesota. The youngster was hooked for life.

After being recruited to join the Red by head coach Mike Schafer ’86, McKee had intended to defer his entrance to Cornell by a year. That is, until LeNeveu left for the promise of the NHL.

“I deferred a year because LeNeveu was going to stay here. He was the starter and he was doing well, but then he left,” he said. “I got the call about two weeks before school started. I was going to go to Naimamo, [B.C.] and play for the Clippers, but I got the call and came here instead.

“I was really looking forward to coming here and I really didn’t want to sit out a year. I really wanted to jump in, get going.”

Once he finally did get going, his impact on the Red has been unmistakable.

“He’s been making huge saves and that’s really important because it gives our whole team confidence,” said senior defenseman and assistant captain Ben Wallace. “When we have confidence in him, we’re able to play our own game and we play a lot better.”

“He had a save against Dartmouth in the first period that was just unbelievable,” agreed senior captain Ryan Vesce. “A rebound save that it looked like an empty net and all of the sudden he kicked his leg out. Guys feed off that, guys see that, and have a lot of respect for him.”

The transition for McKee has been much smoother than anyone could have possibly expected.

“We expect [freshmen] to step in and contribute,” said Schafer. “Can they do it? is the big question. He showed early on with his performances that he was playing very well and he deserved that opportunity.”

McKee’s performances has been undoubtedly helped him become a valued and respected member of the team much earlier than many expected.

“I think I’ve adjusted, and it feels like everything is falling into place,” he said. “This is the best group of guys I’ve ever played with. I really owe a lot to the guys for making me feel comfortable and helping me adjust I think a lot quicker than I would have on a lot of other teams.”

Archived article by Owen Bochner