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McKelvie's unusual path to the pro ranks

Wednesday, 10.3.2012 / 7:39 AM MT / News
By Torie Peterson  - CalgaryFlames.com (@toriepeterson)
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McKelvie\'s unusual path to the pro ranks

ABBOTSFORD, BC -- For any player, the path to the pro ranks is never easy and often involves several stops in various leagues and with a multitude of teams.

Zach McKelvie's journey is drastically different - and longer - than most of his counterparts.

The defenceman's journey has taken him from the North American Hockey League, a U.S. Junior A league, when he played two seasons for Bozeman IceDogs to the United States Military Academy (West Point, NY) where he played four seasons with the Army Black Knights.

Balancing academics with athletics can be a challenge at any school but West Point is a whole different ball game. The military training regimen takes up a large portion of time and being able to balance that with academics and hockey is extremely demanding.

However, he finished at the top of his class - an accolade Flames assistant general manager John Weisbrod calls "a testament to what kind of kid he is."

Weisbrod has plenty of experience with McKelvie. During his time with the Boston Bruins, Weisbrod recruited and signed the blueliner before he was on active duty.

"It was a risky signing because he was in the military academy and owed them military service," Weisbrod said. "The country was at war at the time he came out (of West Point) so even though he signed a contract with the Bruins, he never really got a chance to get his career started and basically missed two full years of hockey."

Those two years were spent working at West Point before being stationed at Fort Benning, GA. He remained at Fort Benning, serving as an infantry officer, until his service obligations were completed.

In the fall of 2011, McKelvie attended the Bruins training camp and officially kicked off his professional career with the Providence Bruins. After his season in the Bruins system was done, he signed a one-year, AHL deal with Abbotsford - a team and organization he holds in high regard.

"It's a first class organization and they treat everybody with respect. The thing for me is that I believe if you come in, do your thing and show them that you can play, they'll give you a chance.

"It doesn't matter who you are, it doesn't matter if you're a first-round draft pick or a free agent. I feel like if you play well, they'll give you a chance."

McKelvie is appreciative of the coaching style implemented in Abbotsford, praising Troy Ward, Cail MacLean and Luke Strand for their straight-forward approach and their teaching methods in training camp.

"They just threw us right into it and I think that's good. They gave us a lot of systems so I think it's a lot for some new guys to comprehend but it's been good. I think you learn a lot faster that way."

Ward's style is quite similar to his days at West Point with bench boss Brian Riley. Both coaches ask their charges for the same things and McKelvie believes that coaching method will bode well for himself and team.

"The professionalism and attention to detail is the main focus here. I think that's what builds success."

The smooth skating defenceman has acquitted himself nicely throughout training camp and if his strong play continues through Friday's Red vs. Black intrasquad scrimmage, McKelvie could find himself on the Heat's blueline come Oct. 12.

"I'm extremely bullish on him as a human being, his character and his work ethic," Weisbrod said. "Obviously from the military background, he's a very yes-sir, no-sir type of person. He's a great athlete. He's a really good skater and strong, fit. And he's a really smart guy.

"With Troy, I just thought that the potential was really there to go like a weed as a player," Weisbrod noted. "He happens to play a position and a style that we really need down here so it was a really good fit."