April 3, 2006

McKee Goes Pro, Signs With Anaheim

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After being the last line of the men’s hockey team’s defense for the past three years, Cornell junior goaltender David McKee penned a two-year free agent entry-level contract with the National Hockey League’s Anaheim Mighty Ducks last week. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

“Over the past two seasons, David McKee has proven to be one of the premier players at the collegiate level,” said Mighty Ducks Executive Vice President and General Manager Brian Burke in a statement. “He is a great addition to the core of young talented players within our organization.”

McKee, who was in Anaheim this past weekend with the Ducks, was unavailable for comment. According to the Los Angeles Times, McKee will start as Anaheim’s third goaltender behind Jean-Sebastien Giguere and Ilya Bryzgalov, though he will likely only see live action in practice.

“I talked to other teams and this was definitely the best opportunity and the best offer,” McKee told the Times. “[Anaheim] made me feel wanted.”

Reports have indicated that four other organizations were in the running to sign McKee, including his hometown team, the Dallas Stars. According the Cornell head coach Mike Schafer ’86, no matter what team McKee ended up with, he had an inclination during this past season that his goaltender would head up to the professional ranks and forgo his senior year.

“We’re very happy for David. Obviously, it was his dream and goal for him to play for professional hockey,” Schafer said. “It’s a great day for him.”

Schafer could not comment on specific recruits due to NCAA regulations, but he did say that because his coaching staff had an idea that McKee would probably leave Ithaca after his junior year, it gave them extra time to seek out potential replacements.

One individual who will be in the mix is Troy Davenport, who again committed to playing at Cornell in late February. Davenport was part of the team as a freshman during the Red’s 2004-05 season, serving as a substitute in one game, but went back to play junior hockey in the USHL with Des Moines. Currently, freshman Dan DiLeo is Cornell’s only returning netminder.

Whatever the case may be, Schafer has a huge gap to fill. McKee is the second Cornell goaltender to leave school early for the NHL in three years, with David LeNeveu ’05 deciding to forgo his last two years of college eligibility to sign a contract with the Phoenix Coyotes in 2003. Schafer has one potential solution.

“When David LeNeveu left, we were very fortunate to land David McKee. Maybe we should recruit more kids named David,” Schafer quipped.

McKee, a native of Irving, Texas, will be the first player born and raised in the Lone Star state to play in the NHL. He recorded a 2.08 goals against average and a .910 save percentage this season. However, he is best known for his sophomore campaign when he was a Hobey Baker Hat Trick finalist after posting a program record-setting .947 save percentage and a 1.24 GAA. McKee has also set Cornell records for consecutive and overall games played and shutouts.

“How are you going to replace David McKee in the sense of statistics when you have one of the most successful seasons ever at Cornell and in college hockey?” Schafer said. “He’s re-written a lot of record books for the goaltender position at Cornell.”

Because of his stellar performance during his sophomore year, there was a lot of interest from NHL teams who were racing to sign McKee. However, he decided to stay at East Hill for another season while focusing completely on the Red’s drive for a national title. This was especially something that Schafer and his coaching staff were grateful for.

“We’re very fortunate he came back. I think that he didn’t have anything to prove statistically, but he wanted to grow as a goaltender and I think that he did,” Schafer said.

“To give him a lot of credit, he stayed in the present … He focused on making himself a better goaltender. I’ve seen it many times when kids are looking forward to their pro careers [but] he was fully committed until the day we were put out.”

Indeed, while he started this past season out relatively slow, McKee left a lasting impression in his final game in a Cornell sweater. The goaltender made a career-high 59 saves, many of them game-saving, in a triple-overtime, 1-0, loss to Wisconsin in the NCAA Midwest Regional Final just a week ago.

Over 102 games, McKee has a 65-24-13 record, a .926 save percentage and a 1.71 GAA for the Red.

“I think he’ll do very well [at the professional level],” Schafer said. “He’s very competitive, I think he adjusts well and he made great strides in the college game. He’ll have to make adjustments in the NHL level, but he’ll be able to do that.”

Along with McKee, Cornell will lose six graduating seniors.

Archived article by Brian Tsao
Sun Senior Writer