Alexander McQuaid gets chance to play in front of Prince Edward Island family Friday
SAINT JOHN, N.B. — Alexander McQuaid didn’t attend the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League draft this past summer, but he still had hockey on his mind.
The 17-year-old was in Boston with his first cousin, Bruins defenceman Adam McQuaid, who had just finished a playoff series against the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Saint John Sea Dogs drafted Alexander on June 8, the day after Boston edged Pittsburgh 1-0 to complete a four-game sweep of the Eastern Conference final.
“He just kind of told me that it’s not going to be the easiest year ever,” Saint John’s rookie rearguard said. “He said, ‘You’re going to be a little homesick, but you just have to battle through that and it’s worth it.’ I’m just sticking to that mentality.”
The approach has served Alexander well so far. The 17-year-old provided a gritty presence in Sunday’s 3-2 shootout loss to the Charlottetown Islanders.
The teams have a rematch Friday at 7 p.m. at the Eastlink Centre in Charlottetown.
And as a Prince Edward Island native, nothing beats returning home for a contest against the undefeated Islanders (4-0-0-0). The Sea Dogs own a 2-1-0-1 record.
“To be honest, I’ve never been so excited in my life,” said the Meadow Bank native. “The days feel so long (this week). I’m kind of a homebody, too, so I’m really looking forward to it.
“But I’m just going to treat it as another game and not get too emotional. I just have to play my game.”
Alexander’s even-keeled approach comes from watching Adam, who played four years of major junior hockey and two-plus seasons in the American Hockey League before becoming an NHL regular. The elder McQuaid is also a Stanley Cup champion, having helped the Bruins win the 2011 title.
But long before Adam earned the right to bring hockey’s Holy Grail back home to Cornwall, he paid his dues. Although originally drafted by Columbus in 2005, the big blue-liner didn’t get his first sniff of the NHL until four years later.
“It definitely helps having someone who’s done it all before,” Alexander said. “I knew coming here I wasn’t going to be a superstar. I’m not going to be getting 30 minutes a game.
“Every time I go out on the ice, I have to work hard and earn my next shift.”
Adam admits it took time to adjust during his first year of major junior, one of four with the Ontario Hockey League’s Sudbury Wolves. He became eligible for the OHL draft after participating in a prospects tournament in Ontario.
His story is captured in Philip Croucher’s new book Road to the NHL.
“It was definitely tough — unlike anything I’ve ever gone through before,” Adam told Croucher. “I’m not going to lie — it was definitely challenging.”
The McQuaids’ fathers — Adam’s dad Mark and Alexander’s dad Derrick — are brothers. Both players are products of the Cornwall Thunder midget AAA team.
Adam grew into a six-foot-four, 200-pound problem for opposing forwards, while Alexander is already six feet one and 185 pounds.
“Ever since I was younger, I’ve tried to model my game after Adam’s, and play a defensive game,” the Saint John freshman said. “I guess over the years, I’ve learned to like that (defensive) style of play and maybe picked up a few things (from him).”
Evidently, all of Alexander’s astute observations have helped in the early part of the campaign.
“His pace of play has picked up and the puck-moving is getting better,” said Sea Dogs head coach and general manager Mike Kelly, a Shamrock native. “It probably took him a couple of weeks with the skating side of it. The last and most challenging part for a young defenceman is processing information and seeing the game in front of you, and anticipating what needs to happen when you’re defending.”
Kelly said the player’s love of hockey can’t be overlooked.
“He has a skill set that’s attractive, but the most impressive thing about him is his passion for the game,” the coach said. “He’s got a really good work ethic and he desperately wants to become a better hockey player, and we’re seeing that. We see him taking steps every week.”