A quick transition from college to the pros

Quinnipiac seniors Tanner MacMaster and Kevin McKernan adjust to professional hockey just one month after their collegiate careers

By on April 10, 2018

Exactly one month ago, the Quinnipiac men’s ice hockey team sorely skated off Cornell’s Lynah Rink following elimination in the ECAC Hockey Quarterfinals.

For most of the Bobcats, the loss meant the end of another season, but for five seniors, it marked the end of their college hockey careers.

“Brutal way to go out, the whole season in general,” senior defenseman Kevin McKernan said following the series sweep. “But we accomplished a lot in our four years.”

However, that was about all the time McKernan and the rest of the senior class had to reminisce on their collegiate careers.

Photo courtesy of Lindsay Mogle / Utica Comets.
Just one week after that disappointing night in Ithaca, New York, both McKernan and senior forward Tanner MacMaster made their professional hockey debuts.

MacMaster, a skilled two-way center that finished his collegiate career on Quinnipiac’s top offensive line, signed an amateur tryout offer (ATO) with the Vancouver Canucks’ American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate Utica Comets, while McKernan, a dependable defensive defenseman signed a contract with the Arizona Coyotes’ ECHL affiliate Fort Wayne Komets.

“Since I’ve started playing hockey I’ve always had aspirations of playing professional hockey,” MacMaster said. “So when I was able to sign and get into some games it was awesome.”

It hasn’t been a cup of coffee in the ‘A’ either.

Despite an evident adjustment from ECAC Hockey play, MacMaster has quickly produced and earned a spot among Utica’s top-six forwards as the recent-playoff-bound Comets make a push for the AHL’s Calder Cup.

“I’d say the biggest adjustment is the guys are bigger and stronger. Things also are just faster,” MacMaster said. “It took a couple shifts to figure it out that you have to make plays just a couple seconds quicker.”

In just his second professional game, MacMaster beat Toronto Marlies goalie Calvin Pickard for his first professional goal and point, a memory he won’t soon forget.

“After my first goal I kinda was in shock,” MacMaster added. “Sitting on the bench after with the guys congratulating you was a pretty cool experience.”

Since then, MacMaster has racked up seven points (two goals and five assists) and 15 shots on goal in 11 games with Utica, including a two-point game against the Marlies (the AHL’s No. 1 team), in which he showcased his patience and vision in the offensive zone.

Meanwhile in Indiana, McKernan is still adjusting to the pace of professional hockey with a separate Komets team in Fort Wayne. Through seven games played in the ECHL, McKernan has no points and a -4 rating, but has contributed 12 shots on goal and has taken no penalties.

“So far, the biggest difference is the style of play,” McKernan said. “There is a lot more freedom and a lot less systems. It’s a fun style of play and the game, for both sides, is full of chances.”

While there has been an apparent swift shift of playing over 700 miles away from New England, McKernan had the ability to skate in front of family and friends in his first professional game.

Photo Courtesy of Jason Gales
He joined the Komets on the road for their game at the DCU Center against the New York Islanders’ affiliate Worcester Railers, a building just six miles away from McKernan’s hometown of Millbury, Massachusetts.

“The timing was perfect with the team playing in Worcester for [my] first game,” McKernan added. “It made it that much cooler to have friends and family be able to drive right down the street to watch my first pro game.”

The three other senior Bobcats, forwards Bo Pieper, Kevin Duane and Landon Smith, are currently unsigned free agents. Pieper had a brief crack at professional hockey this season when he signed an ATO with the New Jersey Devils’ ECHL affiliate Adirondack Thunder on March 21, but was released on April 1.

Both Duane and Smith have remained in Hamden so far, as they finish taking classes like their professional peers.

While MacMaster, a business major, continues to balance school and hockey through online courses, McKernan does the same by working on the completion of his masters.

“I am still taking a couple MBA classes,” McKernan, a marketing major, added. “For the classes I do still have left, the teachers worked out a plan for the rest of the semester for me and they’ve been very supportive of me taking this opportunity.”

Comments

About Justin Cait

Justin joined The Chronicle in 2015. He is a former Quinnipiac men's ice hockey writer, former Sports Editor and former Web Director of the newspaper.

Journalism major / Sports Studies minor
Junior, Class of 2019
Twitter: @justin_cait
justincait.com