June 16th, 2024

McKenna ready, excited to don Maple Leaf for first time

By JAMES TUBB on October 28, 2023.

PHOTO COURTESY MATTHEW MURNAGHAN Medicine Hat Tigers' forward Gavin McKenna was named to Canada's Team Red for the U17 Hockey Challenge held Nov. 2-11 in Charlottetown and Summerside, P.E.I.


Hockey fans in P.E.I. can expect another show, as Gavin McKenna is heading back to the island.

The 15-year-old Medicine Hat Tigers’ rookie forward was named to Canada’s Team Red for the 2023 U17 Hockey Challenge held in Charlottetown and Summerside, P.E.I.

The last time the forward was on the island, he played at a record-breaking level. McKenna was the star for Yukon during the men’s U16 hockey at the Canada Winter Games in February, scoring a total of 14 goals and 29 points, breaking the Games’ record of 27 points in one tournament.

Now, as he looks to don the Canadian jersey for the first time, the Whitehorse product is looking for another big performance.

“It’s something I’ve dreamed about since I was a kid, to put on that Canadian jersey, it’ll be a first for me,” McKenna said. “I’m looking forward to it and heading back out East where I played in February.

“I’ve played at both of those rinks so I know them a little bit.”

Hockey Canada is sending two teams to the Hockey Challenge, Team White and Red. It’s a change of pace as they have sent three teams in previous years, including last year when Tigers Tomas Mrsic and Cayden Lindstrom donned the red and white.

McKenna’s Team Red opens their tournament Nov. 2 with a 4 p.m. MST contest against Team Finland. All three of the top-3 picks in the 2022 WHL draft are on Team Red, with McKenna joined by No. 2 pick Jackson Smith from the Tri-City Americans and No. 3 selection Cole Reschny from the Victoria Royals.

There’s a lot of familiarity within the 2007-born class of players and McKenna says he’s looking forward to getting to play alongside that group.

“I’ve played with quite a few guys on that team, Reschny, (Ryan) Roobroeck, (Reese) Hamilton and all those guys, I’m looking forward to playing with all of them,” McKenna said. ‘They’re all great players who I’m pretty excited to play with.”

McKenna will be joined in P.E.I. by his dad and grandparents who will take in the games.

The Tigers coaching staff was excited to see McKenna recognized on the national level.

“That’s a big tournament, I thought we had other players who could have been named as well,” head coach Willie Desjardins said. “He’s certainly an elite player and it’ll be a good step for him and I’m excited to see how he does.”

Associate coach Joe Frazer, who hails from Brainerd, Minn., was all smiles talking about McKenna and says he would be OK if he won the Gold over Team U.S.A.

“It’s going to be an unbelievable experience for him, whenever you can put the Maple Leaf on and wear that jersey, a ton of pride comes with it,” Frazer said. “It’s going to be an awesome experience for him and we wish him the best, hopefully they can bring back a gold medal.”

McKenna leads the Tigers with five goals and 17 points through 12 games entering play Friday. He sits second in WHL rookie scoring behind 16-year-old Terik Parascak of the Prince George Cougars who has 15 goals and 25 points in 12 games.

TSN’s director of scouting Craig Button had some high praise for McKenna after the roster announcement was named, calling him the player to watch for Canada in the tournament.

“He is a tremendous player, he’s so talented and so driven … he’s worth the price of admission, he obliterated the Canada Winter Games last year in terms of scoring and presence, an excellent player for Medicine Hat,” Button told the CHL. “… I would suggest he will be a frontline player and maybe the marquee player for Canada … He’s the real deal, the skill, the drive and the understanding to utilize his fantastic abilities to make a real impact and dent into the game at 15 years (old), I’m massively impressed.”

After Team Red’s opening game, McKenna and his team will face off against Canada’s Team White on Nov. 3 at 4 p.m. before taking on Team Czechia on Nov. 4 at noon. They’ll face Sweden on Nov. 6 (4 p.m.) and wrap up the preliminaries on Nov. 7 against the U.S. (4 p.m.).

Preliminary-round games, quarterfinals and semifinals will be available by livestream at HockeyCanada.ca. TSN will broadcast the medal games.

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