8:10 PM CST, February 21, 2013
You would have to think Ryan McKay was born to be a goalie.
That's the way his mother, Lorraine, sees it.
Her recollection is that the first time he tried the position, as a 5-year-old in the Northwest Chargers house league, the other kids on the team said, "You're our goalie from now on."
"The coach of the other team even offered to buy him for $100," she said.
Don't get excited, NCAA investigators. You have no case against the Miami University freshman who leads Division I in goals-against average at 1.06 and save percentage at .960.
"That story is pretty accurate," McKay said with a laugh. "We didn't take the money, of course."
Even at this stage in his life, the 20-year-old from Palatine doesn't think much about the possibility of making money as a hockey player. His focus is helping the third-ranked Redhawks maintain their top position in the CCHA this season and then move forward with a team that has 18 freshmen and sophomores.
That McKay went unclaimed in the NHL draft helps him keep his future in perspective. It does not mean he cannot become a pro, like the two other recent undrafted Miami stars — Andy Greene and Andy Miele — who played out their college careers and reached the NHL as free agents.
"It wouldn't surprise me that Ryan is a sought-after free agent too when he is all said and done here," Miami coach Enrico Blasi said.
McKay was one of the nation's most sought-after college goalie recruits after three years with the junior Green Bay Gamblers of the USHL. He moved there after his sophomore year at Fremd High School, lived with a local family and played at the Resch Center just across the street from Lambeau Field.
That experience not only improved his play — McKay was USHL co-goalie of the year in 2012 — but, horror of horrors, it made him into a Packers fan. So maybe there were unseen forces at work Sunday at Soldier Field, when he made 26 saves but Miami lost 2-1 to a Notre Dame team it had beaten two days earlier.
The doubleheader at Soldier Field was a rare chance for Chicago fans to see Division I college hockey. There has been no Division I program in the state since Illinois-Chicago dropped the sport in 1996.
"It's really a shame Chicago has no Division I team," McKay said. "They would get so many good kids from this area."
McKay is among 65 Illinois players in Division I men's hockey, including six on the Miami roster. That is a 33 percent increase over a decade ago and sixth among all states (The three Ms — Minnesota, Michigan and Massachusetts — are the leaders.)
Three of the best current Division I players from Illinois — McKay, Notre Dame's T.J. Tynan (Orland Park) and Wisconsin's Michael Mersch (Park Ridge) — took part in the Soldier Field games.
"It was the perfect experience," McKay said. "I was fortunate Miami chose to play me in that game."
It was the third straight start for McKay. He opened the season with a shutout and has been alternating in net with fellow freshman Jay Williams of McLean, Va., except for a nine-game stretch when McKay was sidelined by ankle injuries. He returned at Alaska-Anchorage in early December with his second of three shutouts.
"That kind of got the ball rolling," McKay said.
McKay's father, Mike, got things rolling on having his son master a stick game by putting a golf club and a hockey stick in his hands as soon as he could stand.
That he chose hockey seemed a foregone conclusion, given that his parents first met at a Blackhawks game in 1976. That was four years after Mike was involved in the creation of the Chicago Metropolitan high school league while a student at Prosser.
Like most successful hockey players, McKay gives huge props to his parents for the hours they spent hauling him from one rink to another. He also is quick to credit every goalie coach that has helped him, beginning in house league with Jim Garofalo, son of long ago Cubs trainer, Tony.
"He taught me the basics of stance and positioning," McKay said.
Those basics have remained the backbone of his game.
"Ryan is very calm and very technically sound," Blasi said. "He doesn't move much. He lets the puck hit him.
"I see him every day in practice and good luck trying to score on him."
You can bank on that.
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