When the Carolina Hurricanes took the ice for pregame introductions on opening night, defenseman Jamie McBain
was introduced on the bench. He was a healthy scratch that night, as he would be in the following two games as well.
It wasn’t until Boston came to town on October 12 that McBain cracked the lineup, unusual for someone who played 76 of 82 games with the team last year and logged an average of over 19 minutes per game.
“It was just kind of humbling to understand that your spot is on the line every night, and you just have to go out there and perform,” he said. “My training camp wasn’t quite as strong as I or [the coaching staff] would have liked it to be.
“It’s tough to sit up there and watch, but you take it for what it’s worth, and you try to learn as much as you can so that when you come back in, you’re ready to play.”
The Canes started the season 0-2-1 without McBain in the lineup. Since then, they’ve gone 4-2-2, and he hasn’t looked back since.
“He’s given us a bit more of an option on the power play units,” head coach Paul Maurice said. “I’ve liked his intensity more than anything else. We know we like his puck movement, and we always have. He’s been pretty involved in all the games, and he’s been a good defender for us as well.”
McBain has been paired with Joni Pitkanen
at even strength, and that combination has also been seen manning the blue line on the first power play unit.
“We’ve had splashes here and there last year with [the power play], but nothing too consistent,” McBain said. “This year, we haven’t clicked quite as much on the power play as we’d like to, but we’re feeling good about where we’re at. We just have to go back to keeping things simple, and eventually the goals will come.”
A product of the United States National Team Development program, McBain was drafted in the second round of the 2006 NHL Entry Draft by the Hurricanes. He completed his collegiate career with Wisconsin in 2009, logging 79 career points (15g, 64a) in 111 games. In his three seasons with the Badgers, he led defensemen in scoring.
He joined the Albany River Rats (the then-AHL affiliate for the Canes) in 2009 following his last season at Wisconsin, and signed an entry-level contract. In the 2009-10 season, he saw 14 games in Raleigh and recorded 10 points (3g, 7a). Wearing the No. 28 at that time, McBain’s first NHL goal was especially memorable: he beat Marc-Andre Fleury with a slap shot from the point with just 0.9 seconds left in overtime to give the Canes a 3-2 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins. (Watch that end-to-end sequence here
At the conclusion of this season, McBain will be a restricted free agent. A contract year can be a tricky thing – some players seem to thrive in them, putting up career numbers; others see their game adversely affected by the pressure.
“It’s something that you understand. It’s all part of the business,” he said. “These are big years when you have a contract year. But at the same time, you just have to go out there and play. The end result will take care of itself, and things will work themselves out.”
Helping his game this season is Dave Lewis, brought in over the summer as the Canes’ defensive coach.
“We’ve had some good conversations about my game and where I’m at,” McBain said. “He doesn’t put too much pressure on you, and I think that’s when I’m able to play my best – when I have that free reign to go out there and play my game, and it’s been great.”
McBain will play in his ninth straight game tonight as the Canes take on the Tampa Bay Lightning. For McBain, it’s another one of many that he hopes to spend with the team that drafted him.
“This has been an unbelievable place to play, and I’ve loved everything about it from the area to the coaching staff to the fans and everything,” he said. “This is a very high-class organization and one that I hope to be with for a long time.”