Hey Eags are you the kid’s agent or something?
That’s what an NHL scout asked me last year regarding Jeremy McKenna.
I didn’t know what to think in the moment.
Whether to be pissed off or what, but that comment really caught me off guard.
Clearly it was meant to be a knock on my analysis, projection and perhaps my subsequent coverage of McKenna throughout his QMJHL career.
I tried to laugh it off, but that phrase stayed with me for a long time.
Fast forward to this past July.
Three days before McKenna signed his first pro contract, I received a phone call from a source saying it was a done deal.
The Summerside Sniper was on his way to the pros.
I automatically thought back to that brief exchange with that NHL scout.
It might have been a knock on me, but it was more about the player.
Jeremy McKenna has faced bitter criticism throughout his journey in the game.
I sat on the scoop for three days until the news broke of the signing.
As I sat on a bench at a play ground and splash pad with my family that day, all I could think about was McKenna’s family and all the hard work that it took to get him to that point.
Over the years of covering the QMJHL and the Moncton Wildcats you see and hear things and learn a lot about players, their parents and their unique journey’s in the game.
I can honestly say Jeremy McKenna is one of the hardest working players I have seen in the five years of covering the league.
Clearly the NHL scout was trying make sure I stayed objective, stayed on point and didn’t show any sort of favouritism, but that’s hard to do considering the player and most of all the person.
It’s really difficult not to root for Jeremy McKenna.
The shy soft-spoken kid that grew up playing his minor hockey on the Island has only ever dreamed of playing in the NHL and at the pro level.
Sportsnet’s Eric Francis wrote an amazing article on McKenna’s journey in the game on that July day subsequently scooping the story.
As I read the article I could only think about having a front row seat to all the ups and downs that young man and organization went through to get to that point.
In that moment I envisioned Jakob Pelletier and McKenna some day playing on the same line at the pro ranks.
You see at that time everything was starting to align for the Summerside Sniper all the sacrifices and hard work were finally paying off.
Fast forward to late September.
I had been following his progression through Flames Camp when I received a direct message on Twitter from another source revealing that McKenna was going to be sent down to the ECHL.
In that moment I thought he had signed a guaranteed AHL contract, but clearly there are no guarantees in the game of hockey.
Ironically I had reached out to Jeremy a few days before to get his insight on his amazing billet brother Jonathan Henry for another story featuring Henry’s induction into the Moncton Sports Wall of Fame.
As usual McKenna delivered a heart felt reaction and insight on the kind of person and athlete Jonathan is.
That’s the type of person Jeremy McKenna is always willing to give, always there to provide perspective in any moment of time.
Three days later the Stockton Heat announced that McKenna was being assigned to Kansas City of the ECHL and the ball started rolling for his return to the QMJHL.
One can only imagine what was going through his mind.
His dream was a reality, but that dream now was being put on hold to come back to the Hub City.
As usual McKenna took it all in stride focusing on helping the team win, staying positive while driven to improve in hopes of landing a NHL deal.
McKenna’s return to the Wildcats changed everything.
It signalled the organization’s intentions to load up and go all in this season.
Former Wildcats bench boss John Torchetti had to have played a critical role in McKenna’s return to the QMJHL.
Torchetti’s tenure as Head Coach and Director of Hockey Operations ended in a shroud of mystery with the organization releasing him in December.
At that point of the season the Cats were battling for first overall in the league and were ranked 2nd in the nation.
Jeremy McKenna and the rest of the core leadership group tried to take charge during that time, but the Cats were a team in transition.
There was no doubt McKenna was trying to do too much and perhaps pressed the issue because he cares so deeply about team success.
McKenna has put up some great numbers thus far as expected, but had uncharacteristically struggled at times throughout the season.
When you have played under the microscope your entire career people become unjustly critical and sometimes downright ruthless when one doesn’t snipe at a predictable expected rate.
McKenna’s struggles were by the most part blown out of portion. The supposed unparalleled and unprecedented scoring slump in late December and January that was perfectly normal phenomenon called hockey.
Sometimes they go in and sometimes they don’t, but when you are a natural goal scorer people start asking why?
Even the best scorers go through from time to time.
Through it all you didn’t see McKenna take undisciplined penalties, he didn’t bang or break sticks over the boards, you didn’t see poor body language.
If you were watching closely and ignoring the score sheet you witnessed a player digging in even deeper during that minor slump.
You see Jeremy McKenna has hunkered down throughout his entire career and that’s one of the major reasons why this kid is still destined to play at the pro level.
Character, resiliency, and an unwavering drive and determination that’s what continues to define Jeremy McKenna, the player and the person.
He’s not in it to prove everyone wrong, he’s in it because he loves every aspect of the game and understands the adversity that comes with it will only make him stronger.
Jeremy McKenna is a team first guy.
A pass first sniper who will do anything to help the team win.
It was just a matter of time before Jeremy McKenna proved that he hadn’t gone anywhere, that the dramatic struggles that people assumed were really just a very minor slump or blip on the radar.
The goal scoring drought that made headlines had ended the week before when McKenna snuck one in under the Mooseheads goaltender’s pad at the side of the net.
For the first time in his Wildcat career the Summerside Sniper had taken the monkey off his back and in all one motion stepped on it.
McKenna turned in an outstanding effort last Saturday afternoon scoring three goals and an assisting on another.
In 40 games this season McKenna has 26 goals and 26 assists.
To some people that’s still not good enough.
It’s never been good enough for those critical of Jeremy McKenna’s style of play.
A what have you done for us lately mentality reigns supreme by all of the critics and fans alike.
Sometimes you have to look beyond the numbers to fully appreciate what a player has done for an organization and it’s only when they are gone that it truly sinks in.
Jeremy McKenna is still in the fight, the fight to prove he can carry a team to the promise land and the fight for an NHL contract.
There’s no championship aspirations for the Moncton Wildcats without the return of Jeremy McKenna.
No, I’m not his agent.
I just admire the player and person and hope one day to see him skate in the NHL.