by Tim Rappleye
This article first appeared on FloHockey.tv
On Thursday, Dryden McKay — College Hockey's Mr. Zero — was named a Hobey Hat Trick Finalist, the only goalie among the final three candidates for the NCAA player of the year. The announcement came less than two weeks after the All-American had hit an all-time low point as a Division I athlete. With the Mavericks hosting what appeared to be a conference coronation party gone horribly wrong, McKay couldn't last two periods against fourth-seeded Northern Michigan in the WCHA semifinals. He was removed from the crease after allowing four goals on 14 shots.
"People were writing us off and writing me off personally after that Northern Michigan game," said McKay. The Wildcats third goal, a 50-foot muffin that rolled up and over McKay's blocker and down into the net, was the image of what appeared to be yet another lost season for the Mavs. "I wasn't at my best, and neither were we."
Minnesota hockey media did not mince words.
"Dryden McKay had lost his edge," was the storyline coming into the NCAA West Regional, where the Mavericks had fallen to a No. 2 seed after the debacle against Northern Michigan. Yet two games after scraping rock-bottom, the junior from Downers Grove, Ill. was perched atop his sport, having dispatched Minnesota's glamor team — the Golden Gophers — with a surgical 4-0 victory. It was McKay's nation-leading 10th shoutout, one that included a 13-shot barrage in the final period, one that carried his Mavericks into their first Frozen Four.
"We came in with a chip on our shoulder," said a relieved McKay in the NCAA postgame. "It was us against the world, and we were out there proving people wrong." PPW, the greatest motivator in sport. "Since the WCHA playoffs, it was all about earning respect," said McKay. "Only way to do that was to come to the big stage and get the job done. We're halfway there."
The Frozen Four represents the biggest distraction a team can face, something UMass learned the hard way in 2019 when it flamed out in the championship game. McKay might be facing the most scrutiny of any player in Pittsburgh next week: he is the only one of the three Hobey Baker Award finalists still playing in the tournament, and he is the front-runner to win the Richter Award as the country's best goalie as well. In one 24-hour stretch, McKay will start his first NCAA semifinal, and then sit for the presentation of the two biggest awards available to a college goalie.
"People can recognize his name now," said WCHA commissioner Bill Robertson. "It's great exposure for this young man and his university." But individual notoriety won't help stop pucks under ESPN's bright lights next Thursday. MSU head coach Mike Hastings has no qualms about his guy between the pipes.
"If there's one word I can throw out with Dryden other than calm and collected, would be 'consistent,'" said Hastings. "He's been our most consistent player over the last two years."
Despite his standing as the only goalie in the Hobey hunt, doubters remain about McKay's place in college hockey's goaltending pecking order. The much-respected College Hockey News rates Minnesota goalie Jack LaFontaine above McKay on its All-American squad, and senior editor Adam Wodon has stated that McKay is only the second most proficient goalie in the Frozen Four behind UMass junior Filip Lindberg.
If the Mavericks are to slay the proverbial dragon and take home college hockey's holy grail in Pittsburgh, the undersized McKay (5'11") will have to stand tall, and once again, prove people wrong.