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Jim McVay, local champion

by Staff Writer / Pittsburgh Penguins
By Mark Boyle

Jim McVay is a local champion.

After winning six Pennsylvania State Championships - McVay knows what it takes to be a champion on and off the ice.

McVay fell in love with hockey as a 5th grader in the Upper St. Clair school district during the 1980 Winter Olympic Games [the Miracle on Ice].

It was McVay’s parents and older brother who gave stressed the importance of both academics and athletics. McVay grew up knowing that his father excelled at three sports in college and his older brother was an accomplished hockey player.

“I started a little later in today’s world,” McVay says. “I was in 6th grade.”

Jim began playing as a defenseman for Upper St. Clair. As a defenseman, McVay looked up to former Penguin Dave Burrows. “He may not be a Hall of Famer, but with the Flyers, Burrows had to be very tough,” McVay says. Playing defense can be a turnoff to some players, and McVay can see why.“If you score a goal, you’re the man,” he says. “How many people think it’s great when a defenseman stops somebody? If you don’t allow the goals, you won’t lose, but typically it’s the forwards who get the credit, it’s all about the goal-scorers.”

This defenseman then moved on to play goaltender.

“You have to love the pressure,” he says. “It’s all you. It’s like the kicker in football. If the ball’s there, you have to kick it. You are the one who has to make it. I can’t stand when goalies blame stuff on their team. You have a chance to stop it.”

McVay enjoyed practicing with his friends as he tried to block each shot they took on him. While in this position, McVay admits that he admired Ron Hextall, the Flyers’ goaltender at the time. “In my opinion, he played the game,” McVay says. “He was better than a defenseman. He played goaltending.”

McVay watched Hextall and tried to mimic his strategies and maneuvers. One day, McVay was introduced to his idol after a game where Hextall signed his fan’s jersey. “It was great,” McVay says. “It was really neat to meet him.”

It was in Philadelphia, Flyers territory, where McVay and his teammates won their state championship.

McVay moved on to Colby College in Waterville, Maine where he wore Hextall’s number as he played for the Mules. Going into his senior year of college, McVay had taken a bit of Russian, a useful skill as the Penguins had just drafted Jaromir Jagr. Jagr would shoot on McVay and Jay Caulfield every day for three months. Caulfield could not speak Czech and Jagr could not speak English and very little Russian. “I would train with Jagr,” McVay says. “I was the only guy he knew, so we became good friends and hung out.”

Playing for a team at a collegiate level taught McVay about the dedication and effort players put into playing their game.

His belief is that to get better, it is important not to overwork the players, and to make sure they all get ice time.
McVay began his coaching career in 1995 for his former high school’s freshman team at Upper St. Clair right after he graduated law school. He then moved over to Bethel Park as an assistant coach for two years when the Blackhawks won the state title in 1997. In ’98 he was promoted to Head Coach.

Since then, McVay has won four state championships at Bethel and has coached almost every player in the NHL originally from Pittsburgh from Ryan Malone to RJ Umberger. McVay not only teaches his players discipline on the ice, he also teaches them the importance of helping those in need.
In 2008, McVay, who has diabetes, came up with the idea for the Charity Outdoor Classic at South Park Ice Rink to benefit juvenile diabetes research. Many of McVay’s high school friends had contracted it, and so had a friend’s 4-year-old daughter.” When I went to the first game and Crosby scored in the shootout, I said, ‘We’ve got to do this,’” he says.

In addition, McVay helped organize an event where his players gave students with autism the chance to skate. Recently, McVay ran into Linda Graney, the teacher who had come up with the idea. “ Linda saw me at Olive Garden on Wednesday,” he says. “She had tears in her eyes. She said that these kids love it so much. It is the number one highlight of their year.”

These students even made thank-you cards and a banner for Bethel Park’s home ice. “To those kids, our kids are like hockey stars,” McVay says. “It’s a highlight of our year.”

McVay and his team also volunteer at First United Methodist in Bloomfield one Saturday around Christmas time, where they serve homeless people dinner in a restaurant-like atmosphere.“The players serve the food, they help make it, they cook it,” McVay says. “Kids will take pictures of themselves cooking for their moms.”As if McVay wasn’t busy enough, he also organizes the Annual USC Hockey Alumni Game at Bladerunners in Bethel Park each year where former Panthers return to see old friends.“It’s funny,” McVay says. “When you win a state championship like my class did, these kids you play with will be a family to you for the rest of your life.”

McVay was one of seven seniors that played the year of the championship. “It’s relationships that keep people together,” McVay says. “The same stories are told year after year. It’s more about friends making the team a family than the winning and losing of games.”

The idea of winning was never a priority for McVay. “I don’t care what the score is,” he says. “I want you to get better each game. If you play well and the other team beats you, I couldn’t be more proud as long as you played the best game you could.

“As long as you play your best, you are a champion.”
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