Illinois Native Goalie, Now Playing D1 Hockey at Minnesota State University, Is a Repeat Hobey Baker Award Finalist
By Ross Forman – His hockey career has long been pressure-packed, on and off the ice.
Dryden McKay is following the hockey path of his dad, Ross, who grew up in hockey-crazed Canada and boasts a resume that includes a stop in the National Hockey League. Ross also spent three seasons in goal in the minor leagues – in the ECHL, IHL and AHL.
And why is he named Dryden? After one of the game’s greatest of all-time, Ken Dryden, the Hockey Hall of Fame goalie who played his entire NHL career for the Montreal Canadiens.
“I didn’t really put it together – my name, my dad and being a goalie – until I was a little older. I first wanted to play hockey to spend time with my dad,” said McKay, who was skating with his dad’s help at 2 or 3, playing games at 4 or 5, and a full-time goalie with knowledge of his namesake at 8 or 9.
McKay was playing locally for the Huskies and his dad was the organization’s goalie coach. One of the assignments that the elder McKay gave goalies was, they had to research specific hockey and/or goaltending info off-the-ice.
Photos courtesy of Dryden McKay
Dryden had to research Ken Dryden.
Ross naturally has helped Dryden every way possible.
“I would not have made it this far (in hockey) without him,” McKay said of his dad. “There never was any pressure to play goalie, nor any pressure to succeed. All he cared about was that I was having fun.
“When I was younger, it was nice to have someone who knew …. everything, (such as) what gear I needed, what camps to attend, etc. He was a huge help.”
McKay started locally in the AA ranks, then finished his local career in AAA play. He moved into the USHL and now plays at the NCAA Division I level for Minnesota State University.
He doesn’t just play, he excels.
McKay is a junior who this COVID-shortened season has posted a national-best 9 shutouts in 23 starts, with 23 shutouts in his three-year career, second all-time in the NCAA. The WCHA named McKay its Player of the Year, Goalie of the Year and All-WCHA First Team.
He is 19-3 this season (as of March 23) with a 1.40 goals against average.
He also is a repeat Hobey finalist.
On April 1, the Hobey Baker Memorial Award Committee named McKay as one of their 3 Hat Trick Finalists for the 2021 award honoring college hockey’s top player. The three finalists were selected from the initial list of Top Ten candidates by the 30-member Selection Committee and an additional round of online fan balloting. The Hobey Baker Award winner will be announced on Friday, April 9. The announcement will be televised live on the NHL Network and streamed on the Hobey Baker website at 5 p.m. CT
“It’s been a crazy year, taking everything day by day, focusing on each day not really knowing what’s going to happen, be it a day from now, a week from now, etc. It’s been interesting, filled with challenges, but filled with a lot of fun,” McKay said. “We have a great group of guys and have had a lot of success; it’s been a fun year.
“It’s awesome, very special (to be a Hobey finalist). I think it says a lot about our team, how we play as a group, how we play defensively. I’m happy to be a part of it.”
McKay is a two-time Goalie of the Year in the WCHA and a three-time goalie champion statistically.
“Dryden is a great example of someone who has made it to a high level,” said Greg Tam, who coached McKay for two Chicago Mission seasons. “The process is different for everybody. Dryden was a solid goaltender when he played for us. Was he considered the best goalie in Illinois at the time? No. But players who understand that the process of development comes in stages and it’s not the same for everybody … if they can accept that and stay true to the process, it will serve them well (long-term).
“Dryden stuck to the process and really came into his game at a much later time then most goalies. If he had compared himself to others at a youth level … well, Dryden is now playing at a really high level and some of those players aren’t playing anymore.”
McKay, who graduated from Downers Grove South High School in 2016, started playing years ago for the Huskies, mostly because they called the Darien Sportsplex their home rink – and Ross was the organization’s goalie director.
When the Huskies moved out of Darien to play out of Romeoville, the Hawks moved in – and McKay had a new home team.
“Growing up, I never made the No. 1 team; I was always on the second team, so I ended up getting a ton of shots every game,” McKay said. “Looking back, that probably was one of the best things for me – I was having a blast, facing a million shots every game.”
He always focused on his technique.
“The thing that stood out about Dryden was, he was hard-working, determined and a very focused kid – and that’s not always the case for young players,” said Anders Sorensen, the director of player development for the Chicago Mission, who now is an assistant coach for the Rockford IceHogs.
McKay jumped to the AAA level as a peewee and said it was “really cool” to join the Chicago Mission, which led to high-profile exposure and countless high-level games against teams from across the U.S.
Photos courtesy of Dryden McKay
“I think I made the jump from AA to AAA at the right time,” said McKay, who was an Illinois state champion with the Mission.
McKay played his final three seasons locally for CYA and though the teams were not as skilled as the Mission teams, that just led to more shots every game – truly a benefit of McKay.
He also was coached for two seasons at CYA by Gregg Naumenko, “and that’s when my game really took off,” McKay said. “If I hadn’t played for Gregg, and all the help he gave me, I don’t think I would have been able to play junior hockey.”
Naumenko appeared in two NHL games in the 2000–01 season with the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim. Most of his career was spent in the AHL and ECHL.
“One game that I still remember to this day was my first year of midget minor, in 2013, playing for CYA against the Mission, a team with Christian Fischer and many other high-level players. This Mission team was one of the best teams in the country,” McKay said. “We played them in game one of the state tournament and lost in triple overtime, but I faced 70-plus shots. It was probably the best game I ever played in all my years playing in Illinois.”
Fischer scored the game-winner.
“That was the moment when I realized I could go somewhere in hockey,” McKay said.
Gino Cavallini, the hockey director for the Mission and a longtime local coach, said, “there are not a lot of flaws in Dryden’s game.”
“He’s very competitive and his success is no surprise. He is committed, dedicated to his craft – and very good at it,” said Cavallini, whose 9-year NHL career spanned 593 regular-season games.
McKay – who sports jersey No. 29, as did the NHL great, Dryden – said the key to success has been simple: trust the process.
Photo Credit: Minnesota State Athletics/SPX Sports
“A lot of kids, especially when younger, they get caught up with the recruiting, who’s talking to who, etc. But I think it’s just important to focus on yourself. Just focus on getting better and know that everyone has a different development path. Trust your coaches and work hard,” McKay said.
Tam, who has coached for 15 years, including 10 with the Mission, said McKay was a “pretty reserved kid, very detail oriented, very focused. He held himself accountable to his own performance.
“Dryden obviously was a big part of our team.”
Tam noted that one of McKay’s biggest strengths was not allowing multiple opportunities for opponents. “He ate up second chances really well,” Tam said. “He helped dictate the pace of the game as much as anyone else on the ice by controlling his rebounds.
“To do that at a young age was pretty impressive.”
And he’s just as impressive today, at age 23, a college junior.