CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. – Tanner McCabe hasn’t eased his way into the UPEI Panthers lineup.
The Summerside D. Alex MacDonald Ford Western Capitals graduate is playing big minutes as a rookie on UPEI’s blue-line.
He said the speed and skill of the other players are the biggest adjustments coming from the Maritime Hockey League to the Atlantic University Sport.
“Teams are stacked full of guys from the (Canadian Hockey League),” he said before Tuesday’s practice. “There’s not really such a thing as a fourth-liner. It seems like every player is great. You have to be on your toes every shift.”
And McCabe has been.
The six-foot-three, 220-pound defenceman has often been paired with veteran Ryan MacKinnon and matched against other team’s top lines.
“It helps playing with a guy like him,” McCabe said. “He’s a great player and he helps me out and gives me a lot of pointers, and the coaches are always giving me tips on how I can make my game better. It’s a learning process, and I’m just trying to improve every day.”
McCabe has turned heads since training camp opened in September.
“It’s crazy the impact he’s had in this league,” Panthers head coach Forbes MacPherson said.
McCabe’s size is unmistakable, but he is far from a one-trick pony.
“He’s just a specimen. . . It’s something he works hard at though and takes seriously,” MacPherson said. “He hits and pins really well. He really seals down any offensive zone cycle. He defends really well. . . He passes the puck like a pro. It’s tape-to-tape, it has velocity on it. It’s accurate.”
Two of the keys, the bench boss said, to McCabe’s progression are his work ethic and desire to learn.
“He is already in that bracket of one of the hardest workers every single day, and I mean every day. He takes no day off,” MacPherson said. “And there’s some days he comes in work boots and work pants where he’s not only a student-athlete, he’s putting in the hours working a couple of labour jobs. He just has that blue-collar work ethic approach.”
While some have labelled McCabe as not having great feet, MacPherson said it’s just not accurate. He said McCabe excels at the skating work the Panthers do each week.
“His edges are very good,” MacPherson said.
McCabe and MacPherson touched based in the summer about the defenceman joining UPEI. MacPherson was linemates with his father, Todd, and played against, and with, his uncles, Scott and Chris.
“Tanner is just their DNA,” he said. “You can’t fool DNA, and he gets it purely.”
MacPherson reached out to Capitals coaches Billy McGuigan and Thomas Waugh and received rave reviews.
With the Panthers looking to replace four defencemen, McCabe was seen as a good piece to the puzzle, but not many people would have expected his quick adjustment to the best university league in the country.
As the Panthers dealt with injuries and suspensions, they needed to try McCabe in bigger roles, and he has handled it well.
“Tanner is 100 per cent one of the bright lights to what has happened this year,” MacPherson said. “Had we not (been dealt those cards), we might not realize to the extent what we have in a Tanner McCabe.”
McCabe’s junior hockey journey took him from Summerside to Miramichi, N.B., with stops in Pictou County and Amherst, N.S., before finding a home with the Caps.
“I ended up in Summerside, and it was a great fit,” McCabe said. “I can’t say nothing but the best about the organization. Billy, Thomas and all the guys there, they definitely helped me improved my game.”
Need to know
Who – A rookie defencemen with the UPEI Panthers men’s hockey team.
Age, hometown – 21, Charlottetown.
Size – Six-foot-three, 220 pounds.
Did you know? McCabe was a teammate of Panthers forward Kameron Kielly from novice to major midget.
Season Team GP G A Pts. PIM
2017-18 UPEI (AUS) 14 0 1 1 28
2016-17 Summerside (JrA) 49 6 19 25 163
2015-16 Summerside (JrA) 45 2 12 14 152
2014-15 Amherst (JrA) 46 0 6 6 181
2013-14 Pictou County (JrA) 42 1 5 6 78
Panthers head coach Forbes MacPherson: “He’s stepped up and done an amazing job, and we love what he’s added to our lineup and we’re excited about how he can impact our program moving forward.”