2016-17 has been quite the year for Patrick McCarron. In the span of his senior season, he has doubled his career point total with career highs in goals (6) and assists (19) while serving as alternate captain for Cornell men’s hockey en route to the team’s first NCAA tournament appearance since 2012.
And to cap it all off, he has been rewarded with a contract to fulfill a lifelong dream of playing professional hockey.
The Grand Rapids Griffins, the American Hockey League affiliate of the Detroit Red Wings, announced Tuesday they have signed McCarron to an amateur tryout for the remainder of the 2016-17, with a full professional contract coming the following year.
“It was a heartbreaking way to end the college year losing like we did to UMass [Lowell],” McCarron told The Sun as he was getting sushi after his first skate in Michigan. “[But now] just really thrilled to be here, excited and want to learn and take in as much as I can.”
Though undrafted, McCarron attended the Red Wings’ NHL development camp last summer, and he has been prominent on their radar ever since. He is eligible to appear in a game as early as Wednesday night, when the Griffins take on the Milwaukee Admirals at home.
Throughout his career, McCarron has been one of the Red’s most dependable blueliners, often being deployed against the opposing teams’ top lines. This season, especially, he found himself tallying plenty of minutes at even strength, on the penalty kill and the power play.
“I developed into a more complete hockey player, and really had to learn how to play at both ends of the ice,” McCarron said of his time at Cornell. “Didn’t really defend very well when I got to school and I think [head coach Mike Schafer ’86] and [associate head coach Ben Syer] really helped me become a more complete player … and I think I became a better player and a better person in my four years.”
Had it not been for an injury his sophomore year, McCarron would have played in nearly every game in his career — he missed just one game outside of his sophomore season.
In his senior season, McCarron finished second on the team in points with 25, going on to be named second-team All-Ivy, and to the all-tournament team at the ECAC championships, where he tallied an assist and a plethora of minutes. It was the first time Cornell reached the ECAC finals since 2012, but dropped a 4-1 decision to Harvard.
McCarron also held an eight-game points streak this season — the longest for a Cornell blueliner since 2003.
McCarron is the first one of his class to sign a professional contract, with several others expected to follow suit. He joins seven other Cornellians on AHL teams, most notably Joakim Ryan ’15, a member of the San Jose Barracuda, also in the Western Conference.
On the Griffins, he joins nine other former NCAA student-athletes, including fellow ECACers Mike Borkowski of Colgate, Kyle Criscuolo of Harvard and Matt Lorito of Brown, among more from a variety of conferences and schools.
“I met [some of] them at development camp in the summer … nice guys,” McCarron said. “Played hard against them for a couple years … They are welcoming me with open arms down here and have been really nice to me, so appreciate them doing that.”
Another one of McCarron’s new teammates is Dominik Shine, who also signed with Grand Rapids this year, but out of Northern Michigan University. McCarron and Shine faced off in the Florida College Classic this past December, where Cornell won 5-2. Shine had a goal in the game, and McCarron added three assists.
The two former foes are now roommates in their first year playing professional hockey, McCarron said.
“He is kind of showing me around today,” McCarron added of Shine. “Really good guy, good player and nice having someone in a similar situation as me down here.”
One of McCarron’s new assistant coaches is Mike Knuble, a former Michigan Wolverine who played 1,068 games in the NHL, the first of which for the Red Wings. Knuble also played a single game for the Griffins at the age of 40, where he tallied an assist.
“All the guys that are around the organization have been around pro hockey for a while, so it’s just about learning every day and taking as much in as you can from each guy so I can turn my career into a long pro hockey career,” McCarron said.
Currently, the Griffins sit atop the Central Division — third in the entire league — with a 43-18-1-4 record and an already clinched spot in the postseason.