McKee leaves tough guy persona on the ice

By Tom Schreier

Mike McKee - Lincoln Stars

Photo: Lincoln Stars defenseman and Detroit Red Wings prospect Mike McKee plays a hard-nosed brand of hockey, and is considered to be the toughest player in the USHL (courtesy of Kim Fogle)

Mike McKee is the USHL’s gentle giant.

On the ice he is an animal; he finishes his checks, clears players away from the net and gets into fights.

Off the ice he is a soft-spoken, conscientious person that speaks highly of his mother and is quick to credit people that have helped him behind the scenes.

At 6’4”, 230 pounds, McKee is an imposing figure on the ice.

“I had a great trainer growing up,” he said, crediting Mark Joslin, a high performance trainer he has worked with since he was 13 years old.

“[McKee] is a guy who’s got an immediate presence on the ice,” Red Wings scout David Kolb told “He’s far and away the toughest kid in that league.”

It is his experience, however, that sets him apart from other players.

“He was pretty well traveled for an 18-year-old last year,” says Lincoln Stars head coach Chad Johnson, “a guy that has seen the inside of a lot of rinks already. He was out on the East Coast, went away from home at a young age, and just has that pro mentality.”

McKee was raised in Newmarket, ON, 45 minutes north of Toronto. Selected by the Ottawa 67’s in the sixth round (116th overall) of the 2009 OHL Priority Selection, he instead chose to attend Kent School in Connecticut for his sophomore and junior years of high school before joining the Stars.

“I just wanted to go to school, get an education,” he says when asked why he passed on the Canadian junior route, which would have rendered him ineligible to play NCAA hockey.

“It’s important for me and my family.”

While Johnson lauds his defenseman’s ability to handle the rigors of being away from home and playing a tough schedule that is 60 games long and will bring him to various locations across the Midwest, he would like his blueliner to be a little more cerebral on the ice.

“He’s got to be that complete defensemen,” says Johnson of McKee, who led the USHL in penalty minutes last season. “He’s a physical presence out there, but you can’t be that one-dimensional physical presence. He’s got to be that guy that makes it easier for his d-partner, a guy that doesn’t turn his problem into someone else’s by just throwing pucks [away]—making good tape-to-tape passes and yet being that physical presence as well.”

“I can move the puck well,” says McKee, confident that he will improve upon that aspect of the game this year. He adds that he would like to move a little quicker on the ice. “I would say quicker feet, trying to get a little quicker from the starting and stopping position.”

“He’s got a good mind for the game,” says Johnson, “and he has a heart and a passion for it as well.”

McKee’s passion was tested on Draft Day in 2011. He attended the event, which was held in St. Paul, MN, with his mother and saw round after round go by without hearing his name called.

“It was kinda tough sitting through the whole thing,” he admits, “so this year we didn’t really hype it up too much and just thought whatever happens, happens.”

McKee didn’t watch the 2012 NHL Draft and was surprised when he heard that the Detroit Red Wings had selected him in the fifth round.

“I was actually in the grocery store with my sister,” he says, smiling, “it was pretty emotional for the whole family. It was awesome.”

His smile is large, exposing the molars on either side of his mouth.

Fittingly, he is missing a tooth.

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