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McNally's Marathon

by Farhan Devji / Vancouver Canucks

Patrick McNally woke up on June 26 knowing that his name could be called at some point during the second day of the NHL entry draft, but he didn’t want to sit around waiting – at least not right away.

“I was a little tense when I woke up so I went and worked out for a little bit,” said McNally from his home in Glen Head, New York, having just finished another work out session. “Then I came back, and my family had a barbeque at my house.”

With his mother, father, sister, and grandfather by his side, McNally eventually turned on the television and waited patiently to see his name pop up on the screen. But it never did.

“I was watching on TV, but I actually didn’t see it come up,” said McNally, who models his game after New York Islanders defenceman Mark Streit. “But my adviser was there and he called to congratulate me and I was ecstatic.”

“It feels good; it’s an honour,” he added. “Both me and my family were really happy.”

The Vancouver Canucks used their fourth-round pick (115th overall) to select the offensive defenceman who led Massachusetts prep school Milton Academy in scoring last season with 35 points in 28 games. And though this week is his first time in Vancouver, McNally couldn’t be happier.

“I know they have a great fan base in Western Canada and I know that people out there love hockey. I’m just really excited.”

After meeting with Canucks scout Brian Chapman this past season at Milton Academy, and after speaking with the team’s management at the recent NHL draft combine in Toronto, McNally knew the Canucks were interested but he still “had no idea” where he would end up. And can you blame him? The U.S. prep school defenceman of the year interviewed with 18 NHL teams at the combine, in addition to meeting with six teams at school and receiving a few phone calls to boot.

Clearly, McNally’s abilities had intrigued a number of different NHL teams, but the general consensus is that the lesser competition he faces at prep school along with his decision to attend Harvard University played a role in his free fall at this year’s entry draft. When asked how long he intends to remain at Harvard before making the jump to the professional ranks, McNally said that wasn’t the first time he’s heard the question.

“I talked about that with a lot of teams,” said McNally, who has been told by more than one scout that his style of play is similar to that Washington Capitals defenceman Mike Green. “I think I’d be willing after two years, if the team thought I was ready and if I thought I was ready, to maybe make the jump. But at this time, I can’t really say.”

“It’s really up to the Canucks organization,” he added. “But I’m hoping that I’ll be ready as soon as I possibly can be.”

McNally intends on spending one more season at Milton Academy before joining the Harvard University Crimson in the fall of 2011. And although he was drafted by the USHL’s Indiana Ice, he doesn’t see them in his future. He does, however, hope to one day see the Canucks in his future, even though becoming a professional hockey player never used to be something he strived for.

“I’ve always worked hard in hockey, but I’ve always worked not necessarily to become a pro, but just to get better and maybe play in college,” said McNally, whose philosophy was similar to that of recently acquired defenceman Keith Ballard. “But now that this is a reality and it’s a possibility that I could turn pro, that’s just going to motivate me even more and I’m going to work even harder.”

Following this week’s prospects development camp in Vancouver, McNally will return to Long Island, where he will be skating four times a week with Lithuanian skills coach Aleksey Nikiforov – who has worked with Leafs defenceman Mike Komisarek, Ottawa Senators forward Alexei Kovalev, New York Rangers defenceman Matt Gilroy, and others – while continuing to hit the gym.

McNally doesn’t have to wait for his name to be called by an NHL team anymore, but he still knows there’s a long road ahead, thanks to advice from his dad – a football player turned FBI agent.

“He always used to tell me since I was little that sports aren’t a sprint, they’re a marathon,” said McNally. “You’d see all these kids who were so much better than me, so he’d tell me sports aren’t a sprint, they’re a marathon so keep working hard and eventually you’ll get to where you want to be.”

That’s what McNally’s done, and that’s what he’s going to continue to do.

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