By JAMES TUBB on December 23, 2023.
According to the numbers and league averages, Gavin McKenna has had a strong start to his rookie season in the Western Hockey League. According to the freshly turned 16-year-old, he needs to be better.
McKenna hit the holiday break with a stat line of 11 goals and 32 points in 26 games in his first full season with the Medicine Hat Tigers. Those points come all as a 15-year-old, as he only reached 16 on Dec. 20.
He sits fourth in Tigers’ scoring, is tied for 49th in the league and is second in rookie scoring behind 17-year-old Prince George Cougars forward Terik Parascak, who has 26 goals and 52 points in 33 games.
He’s a shoe-in for the Central division’s rookie of the year nominee but when looking at his own year so far, it’s deemed “just OK.”
“I kind of slowed down a bit and I want more out of myself coming into the second half,” McKenna said. “I think it’s been OK, I’ve played with lots of different guys this year and all of them have been great. But I definitely, definitely expect more of myself in the second half.”
Those lofty expectations of himself go beyond racking up the point total or trying to catch Parascak in the rookie scoring race. McKenna wants to improve his own game and says he wants to be at his best when the Tigers make that jump into the playoffs.
“I want to shoot the puck a bit more, I have to work on my shot every day,” McKenna said. “Also go home, get rested. So I’ll be 100 per cent when I’m back. Just working on my speed and stuff over the year. Come playoff time, I want to be in the best shape I can be.”
The Whitehorse product has put in a lot of work throughout the first half of the season, as have all of the Tigers rookies. McKenna is usually one of the first players on the ice ahead of practice and one of the last off at the end, usually leaving the ice as late as possible to avoid missing classes.
That desire to be better is something head coach Willie Desjardins has noticed about his young star. He likes that McKenna isn’t satisfied with his results so far and is looking forward to how he’ll continue improving in the second half.
“It’s impressive, he’s stayed out after and has skated himself, he wants to be good and it shows,” Desjardins said. “He’s always out early, he’s got an exceptional read on the game so maybe something isn’t translating, there’s reasons why it doesn’t translate but he’s grown a lot. He’s a way better player now than he’s ever been. That’s kind of what I look for. I don’t look for the points or one part of it, he still has an awful lot of points for a guy that’s having a ‘bad year,’ like lots of people would wish that was a great year for them.
“He’s a really a good player and he’s a good person. He’ll keep getting better and he’ll keep getting the points he needs.”
McKenna missed six games in early November while playing for Canada at the U17 Hockey Challenge. Before leaving, he had seven goals and 20 points in 14 games. Since his return, McKenna has four goals and 12 points in 12 games. While not the point total he wants, McKenna says the tournament left him with some lessons he’s applied to his game and has seen parts of himself improve.
“My work ethic has improved a little bit, I’m starting to get on the forecheck a little bit and maybe backtracking a bit harder,” McKenna said. “That also comes with a bit of confidence, too. I just feel like I want more of myself so maybe I’ve been working a bit harder, too.”