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McKenna finishes rookie season strong

McKenna finishes rookie season strong

 


By James Tubb on May 18, 2024.

JUSSI NUKARI LEHTIKUVA VIA AP Gavin McKenna of Canada celebrates his 6-4 empty-net goal and hat trick during the final match of the 2024 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championships between the United States and the Canada in Espoo, Finland on May 5, 2024.

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An already spectacular rookie season for Gavin McKenna ended on a winning note.

The Medicine Hat Tigers forward had already earned a summer break after a first season of 34 goals and 97 points in the Western Hockey League. Instead, the 16-year-old added to his already growing list of achievements by winning gold for Canada at the U18 men's hockey championships, breaking a national record and being named WHL rookie of the year.

McKenna's 10 goals and 20 points in seven games broke a Canadian record for points in a single U18 men's tournament. Looking back on the experience as a whole, the Whitehorse product says it was a few weeks he will never forget.

It took me a little while to figure it all out, but it's pretty cool to look back on this tournament,” McKenna said. It's tough to lose in the playoffs, it might be tough to compete in a tournament like that. But I got to play with some good teammates, the whole team is made up of superstars, so playing with those guys was pretty cool. Just being part of such a good team, you know, it gives you momentum and it's a tournament that I'll remember for the rest of my life.

McKenna and Canada trailed the United States 3-2 heading into the third period before scoring four goals, with the young Tiger scoring to tie the game, earning an assist on the eventual winner of the match and ending the match with an empty goal on his own side. END. He had three goals and an assist to win the gold medal, an effort that stood out but didn't surprise Tigres head coach Willie Desjardins.

What's encouraging for him is that when they fell behind, he was a guy that they went to, and he was the one who responded, I think that's always important, Desjardins said. There are enough challenges, but it is important to recognize in yourself that the game was on the line, that you were there and that you played well.

McKenna's efforts brought even more attention to the young forward, drawing praise from NHL prospects experts like Craig Button, TSN's director of scouting and the tournament's play-by-play announcer.

If (Gavin McKenna) was in this year's draft, he would go first or second. This isn't a criticism of Macklin Celebrini…it's how good Gavin McKenna is, Button said after McKenna tied the Canadian scoring record with a power play assist in a 4-0 win over the Latvia on May 2.

McKenna says Finland, where the U18 Championships were held, reminded him a lot of home and he was drawn back to Whitehorse by seeing the snow during the first week of their stay there.

In Europe, it's probably the closest thing to Canada, McKenna said. You drive on the right side of the road, depending on the forecast temperatures, but it was a super cool place. Our hotel was in a mall, so it was pretty cool to walk around there and see all these new places.

He found a Finnish candy store that satisfied his sweet tooth, with a variety of skeleton candies getting his seal of approval.

While winning gold with Canada and munching on European candy, McKenna received his WHL Rookie of the Year win. It's an honor that he says came with a lot of help.

“I've had a lot of support throughout the year, from my teammates, staff, coaches and my family too, it's a pretty cool thing,” McKenna said. Obviously, all year long, I worked in this direction and I had this in mind. So to achieve that, it's definitely a pretty cool feeling.

He says it checks a box for him in what he wants to achieve by wearing the orange and black. His most desired box to check is still winning a championship. McKenna says that's his only goal, all other accolades come with it.

The main goal every year, if you're on a team that has that mindset, you really want to win a championship and all the rewards will come with it, McKenna said.

Getting that gold medal and the WHL Rookie of the Year honor caps off a season that ended too soon for McKenna and Tigers fans. He says these victories only add fuel to the already burning fire.

It's pretty nice to get a win like that before the summer, McKenna said. But you know, going into next year with the Tigers, obviously we were all going to be very hungry. We really want to win this championship. So that's motivation for next year, but to be able to play in a tournament like that and have an opportunity after losing is pretty cool and pretty amazing.

Looking back on his youngest star's season, Desjardins says he can't put into words what McKenna did and that he prefers to leave it up to him.

It's his actions that speak, he doesn't need me to speak for him, said Desjardins.

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