McKinnon gets fresh start with Kodiaks
Camrose Kodiaks forward Ryan McKinnon chases down a loose puck with Drumheller Dragons Nate Keeley 21 during Alberta Junior Hockey League action in Camrose on Saturday. Camrose won 3-2. Josh Aldrich/ Camrose Canadian
Ryan McKinnon just wanted a fresh start with the Camrose Kodiaks.
The recently acquired soon to be 20-year-old winger is now on his fifth team in the Alberta Junior Hockey League, with two tours of duty each with the Spruce Grove Saints.
He joined the Kodiaks on Nov. 2 in a trade with the Sherwood Park Crusaders for future considerations.
“I just don’t think the coach really believed in me and didn’t give me a chance,” said McKinnon. “(Camrose Kodiaks head coach and general manager) Boris (Rybalka) definitely has given me that chance and he’s shown he believes in me.”
He has the potential to be a big part of the Kodiaks rebuild on the fly. Since joining the club, he has found a home on a line with twin brother Carson and Mckenzie Welke, and the trio played a big role in snapping Camrose’s 11-game losing streak this weekend. They beat the Brooks Bandits 3-2 on Friday and the Drumheller Dragons 3-2 on Saturday before falling 3-2 to the Olds Grizzlys on Tuesday.
There was no question in Rybalka’s mind where he was going to put his new forward.
“When we made the trade, some of the guys said ‘Coach, I think we know which line he should go on,’” said Rybalka. “It doesn’t surprise me. That type of player knows one thing, and that’s work. He’s tenacious and a hard worker and that’s what the Welkes are.”
The line has been arguably the Kodiaks’ most effective since they were united.
McKinnon has been known better for his aggressive, physical lunch pail work ethic than his offensive numbers. In 172 career games in the AJHL while also playing for the Calgary Canucks, and Whitecourt Wolverines, he has 72 points (32 goals, 40 assists) but this year his stats fell way off with the Cru, posting five points (1-4-5) in 16 games. In his first five games in Camrose, the five-foot-11, 190-pound Edmonton native already has a pair of assists.
“This year has been hard for me to find the back of the net,” said McKinnon. “
I’ve definitely had my chances, but I was gripping my stick a little tight off the start and I got down on myself.”
In his final year of eligibility, he is in the difficult position of not having a scholarship nailed down, but he is going to use that as motivation instead of an anchor. The Kodiaks are hoping to be the beneficiary of it.
“That’s definitely the main goal is to getting a degree and getting and playing hockey while getting a degree is the best-case scenario,” he said.
Rybalka has not stopped his tinkering with the lineup. In addition to McKinnon and defencemen Peter Kope, Dawson Schwengler and Carson Lux who have come on board the last few weeks, he traded Tate Coughlin to the Melville Millionaires of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League for 19-year-old forward Braeden Nesbitt. Nesbitt started the year with the Okotoks Oilers, but was traded after a game to the Lloydminster Bobcats, and 10 games later he was dealt to Melville, but he refused to report. The Kodiaks were intrigued by his size — six-foot-four, 197 pounds — and his potential.
“He’s a big, he’s strong, he actually has some good skill for a big man and he competes and battles and those are the things we want to see,” said Rybalka, who had him on a line with Kyler Kupka and Nic Correale.
The Kodiaks were riding a high after their two wins over Brooks and Drumheller, but took a big step back against the Grizzlys on Tuesday with an uninspired effort. Despite winning two of three games, they will actually fall into last place in the AJHL North Division with Olds holding a tiebreaker over them.
“It’s a learning curve, but sadly it’s a … huge two points that we lose to Olds,” said Rybalka. “When you think that just because you’ve played well that you’re RBC Cup champions, no the RBC Cup Champion is crowned in May, not in November.”
Carson Welke scored both goals for the Kodiaks while Griffin Bowerman made 25 saves in the loss. The Grizzlys got one goal each from Jeremy Klessens, Parker Ward and Cody Laskosky while Andrew Henderson made 23 saves for the win.
The Kodiaks are on the road this weekend to play the Grande Prairie Storm on Friday and the Whitecourt Wolverines on Saturday.