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McKay gets his foot in the door with pro contract


While much of the world is inundated with doom and gloom, one Swan River hockey player is over the moon excited by what his future might look like.
Riley McKay, son of Darin and Della McKay, signed his first professional contract - just weeks after his final season of junior hockey was officially cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic the world has been faced with.
McKay’s one year contract, for the 2020-21 season, is with the NHLs Chicago Blackhawks’ top farm team - the Rockford IceHogs of the American Hockey League.
The now former Saskatoon Blades forward will begin training as best he can in preparation of skating with other NHL hopefuls this coming September - assuming the world has returned to some sort of normalcy of course.
McKay caught the Blackhawks’ attention after impressing at a camp he was brought in for last fall.
“I guess it started when I went to Chicago for their prospect tournament in Traverse City, Mich.,” said McKay.
“They continued to show interest in me and stayed in contact with me throughout the season and, in the end, then offered me a contract.”
This past season was the best of McKay’s four year Western Hockey League (WHL) career. The now 21-year-old rugged winger scored 19 goals and assisted on 19 others for a total of 38 points in 62 games played. McKay also picked up 93 penalty minutes, his lowest total in his four seasons.
Of course, the season was cut short for just about every hockey league in the world and for McKay and his teammates, it was a bitter pill to swallow.
“Obviously it’s disappointing how the season ended this year and I feel bad for all the 20-year-olds who don’t get to end their junior careers on their own terms,” commented McKay.” But, signing on with Rockford has given me an opportunity to further my career.” 
For McKay, the one year deal not only gets his foot in the professional hockey door, but it can also be a great motivater to continue playing the game he fell in love with as a small child.
The goal for McKay, who was an assistant captain this past season with the Blades, is of course to impress Blackhawks’ management at training camp this fall with a goal of making the IceHogs squad out of camp.
The deal came together fairly quickly once NHL teams were allowed to sign free agents and for McKay, there was no hesitation on his part to put pen to paper.
McKay’s family certainly weren’t forgotten in the excitement, and while some might praise a parent’s sacrifices after years of hauling their kids around from town to town to play hockey, his mother never viewed it that way.
“I’m very happy for Riley for the opportunity to further his career and keep playing,” said Della McKay. “I don’t feel we made sacrifices, it’s a part of our life. If anything he is the one that has made them. We really enjoy watching our kids play. It’s a very exciting time for all of our family.”
Going back to last fall’s camp in Traverse City, McKay was quick to point out that it was a good eye opener for him to realize he wasn’t as far off as he may have believed going into the week.
“I think it helped me a lot,” said Riley McKay.
“I was happy with how I played and believe it proved to myself that I could play with high caliber players and take the next step playing pro hockey.”
After that camp, the Blackhawks kept an eye on McKay, following his season closely, and ultimately were pleased with his progression throughout the season.
McKay started his junior hockey career as a 16-year-old with his hometown Swan Valley Stampeders. He recorded an impressive 34 points in 54 games in that 2015-16 season, while winning fans by accumulating 151 penalty minutes as one of the youngest players in the MJHL that season.
While he knew there was interest there, McKay was still a bit surprised when the contract was offered.
“It caught me off guard a little bit, especially with everything going on in the world right now,” said the 6’, 195 pound McKay.
“But, it felt great - finally getting some good news and knowing that I get to extend my hockey career playing pro. I’m very excited to have signed this early in the off-season. It gives me all summer to train and prepare”.
And, while the middle child (McKay has an older brother Robbie and a younger sister Jenna) will continue to work with the family farming operation this summer, his dad praises his commitment to succeeding in life.
“I’m very excited for Riley to play at this next level,” said Darin McKay. “For the last number of summers he’s come home to work with us and we worked him fairly hard. At the end of summer I’d ask him if he wanted to work or play. He always said play hockey.”
McKay doesn’t yet know what camps he’ll be attending in the fall but whatever challenge he’s presented, he knows he’ll be ready to give it his all.
“I haven’t really gotten to talk with them about what’s happening yet, but I’m assuming back to Traverse City for the prospects tournament and then go to either Chicago’s camp or Rockford,” said Riley McKay.
While McKay may not exactly know what the future holds, he’s not one to take things for granted. He’s fully aware not many players earn the opportunity that has been presented to him and was quick to praise those who have stood by him since day one.
“I’m grateful to get this opportunity to play at a higher level,” concluded Riley McKay.
“I’m happy my family gets another winter of watching hockey. There’s a lot of people I could thank for helping me along the way but I really couldn’t do it without the support of all my family at home,” 

Brian Gilroy