McKee proves sport is growing in untraditional markets

Updated: May 26, 2006, 2:00 PM ET
By Scott Burnside | ESPN.com

EDMONTON, Alberta -- When the Dallas Stars first moved to Big D from Minnesota in 1993, David McKee's father Carl bought season tickets.

The night of the Stars' first home game, 10-year-old McKee refused to go.

"I wanted to hang out with my friends," the native of Midland, Texas, recalled.

But his dad kept pestering him and essentially dragged young David to the second home game. It turned out to be a life-altering event for a young man who is now a shining example of how non-traditional hockey markets can, indeed, grow their own.

Watching the speed of that first game and intrigued by the play of Dallas netminder Andy Moog, McKee promptly discarded the more familiar and comfortable sports in Texas, like baseball, football and soccer, and focused all of his attention on the strange game on the ice.

"Within five minutes, I fell in love with it," McKee told ESPN.com this week. "It just pulled me right in and I never looked back."

Shortly thereafter, McKee started taking skating lessons and his father bought him equipment. Because he'd been a catcher in baseball and goalie in soccer, McKee said he wanted to play only one position, goaltender.

"I've always liked the pressure positions," he said.

McKee showed up for his first minor hockey tryout wearing normal skates as opposed to goalie skates. His coach told him he wasn't good enough to play on the team, but since he didn't have any other goalie at the time, McKee would have to do until someone better came along.

And so McKee was a hockey goalie. Sometimes, he put his pads on the wrong legs, but he was a hockey goalie.

One summer, his father, an entrepreneur who manufactures playground equipment, sent McKee to hockey school in Penticton, British Columbia. The goaltending coach was Andy Moog. McKee returned every summer for six or seven years. Then, his father helped arrange for Moog to tutor his son one-on-one in Dallas.

"He was a gamer, but didn't have much technique. He willed the puck out of the net," Moog recalled.

When Moog started working one-on-one with McKee between the time he was 15 and 18, the veteran NHLer and longtime goaltending coach to the Dallas Stars, was astonished at the transformation.

"At the time, it was incredible to see the technical advancements he'd made," Moog said. "He's just one of those guys that sets his mind to things he's pretty sure he's going to accomplish it."

McKee went 26-7 for an NAHL team in Texas and was named to the first-team All-Star and All-Rookie team. Still, McKee didn't think his career would extend beyond junior.

He was wrong.

Recruited by Ivy League schools, McKee ended up at Cornell in 2003-04 and, as a freshman, went 16-10-6 with a 1.84 goals-against average and .920 save percentage, numbers that earned him co-rookie of the year honors in the ECACHL.

He admits to his friends back home in Texas that he thought it strange that his childhood hobby had become such a dominant force in his life.

"Everyone was [asking], 'What are you doing?'" McKee said.

The following year, McKee took another giant step forward, posting a 27-5-3 record with 1.24 GAA and .947 save percentage and 10 shutouts. Combined with five in his rookie season, McKee passed Hall of Famer Ken Dryden for most shutouts in school history. He was a Hobey Baker Award nominee in 2005 and had 102 straight starts, a Cornell record.

Although the Dallas Stars were interested in McKee, the 22-year-old signed with the Mighty Ducks on April 1, two days after his college career ended with a triple overtime 1-0 loss to eventual national champion Wisconsin at this year's Frozen Four. After signing with the Ducks, McKee traveled to Riga, Latvia, where he was the third netminder for the latter portion of the World Championship. He is now getting a firsthand look at a Stanley Cup run as the Ducks' third netminder.

"Hockey's big in Dallas," he said. "There are a lot of good players coming out of Dallas now."

Scott Burnside is an NHL writer for ESPN.com.