Duncan McKellar has finally found a home in the North American Hockey League.
After being released by three United States Hockey League teams the first three weeks of the season, McKellar, who had signed a tender with the expansion Wenatchee (Wash.) Wild over the summer, reported to Wenatchee and said things couldn’t be better.
“It’s been a long road for me,” said McKellar, an 18-year-old Phoenix native. “I was pretty bummed at first that things weren’t working out and maybe I was having doubts about being a hockey player, but people I talked to encouraged me to keep going and (Wenatchee head coach) Paul Baxter was a big help as well.”
McKellar started the year with the Sioux Falls Stampede and played there about six weeks. He was let go and latched on with the Lincoln Stars, where he stayed for just two games. After that, he arrived in Kearney, Neb., with the Tri-City Storm, but “the team was going through some changes and I was a part of it,” said McKellar. “But then I came to Wenatchee and I love it there.”
And it didn’t take long for McKellar to contribute to the Wild. On Dec. 1, he was named the Sherwood/NAHL West Division Player of the Week. He recorded two goals and four assists as the Wild skated to a three-game sweep over the Alaska Avalanche and was also a plus-2 on the weekend.
“Duncan is tremendously skilled with good creativity and hockey sense,” said Baxter. “Add that to a 6-foot-3 frame and we feel Duncan is a very attractive Division I prospect and, ultimately, pro prospect.”
Playing for a Division I school has always been a goal of McKellar’s and while he hasn’t had any serious talks just yet, he knows biding his time is part of the process.
“We haven’t played that many games (just 20 through December), so there hasn’t been a lot of opportunities for scouts to come see our games,” said McKellar. “I got to see a lot of Denver University and Colorado College games when I played (Midget Minor) for the Colorado Thunderbirds (in 2006-07), but I won’t be too picky when it comes time to pick a school. I do think I’m ready for the college game.
“I’ve been told by a lot of people that I have good vision on the ice, that I watch the play develop before it happens. I consider myself a playmaker, too.”
McKellar thinks the Wild, a virtual melting pot of players from all across the United States and even one apiece from Quebec, Slovakia and Russia, can be a steppingstone to the NCAA. But while he’s in Wenatchee, he’s enjoying the experience.
“You’d think chemistry would be a problem on a team like ours, but we have a really good group of guys and we all get along,” McKellar said. “The city of Wenatchee really supports the team. We get like 3,000 fans a game and people are always coming up to us and talking to us wherever we go.
“A while back, a bunch of us were at a restaurant and some random people were talking to us. Then they left and when it came time to pay, we found out those random people had paid for our meal. There are a lot of great people in Wenatchee.”
With the Fairbanks Ice Dogs pretty much running away with the West Division, McKellar doesn’t think the Wild is out of the running to make some noise the second half of the season and into the playoffs.
“Some teams still haven’t taken us seriously, but I think we can give a lot of teams a run for their money,” McKellar said. “We’ve played Fairbanks twice and didn’t do so good, but we’ve grown since then.”
Something else that will grow on McKellar in the Northern Pacific is winter.
“Yeah, I guess the day I left to come back home (for Christmas break) there was a bunch of snow up there,” laughed McKellar. “But winter won’t be totally new to me, though. Two years ago when I played in Colorado, I guess that was one of the worst winters the state had in a long time.”