Jeremy McKenna is excited for the final leg of his junior hockey career.
The 20-year-old Summerside right-winger is a key piece for a Moncton Wildcats team building for a deep playoff run in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League with a goal of capturing the Canadian Hockey League’s championship.
“It’s the ultimate prize and Moncton has never won a Memorial Cup and that’s what we’re trying to do this year,” said McKenna, who started the season in the pros before returning to the Hub City in early October. “It kind of felt like I have unfinished business here and something that I wanted to bring the fans in Moncton.”
The Wildcats (26-10-0-0) have already added forwards Benoit-Olivier Groulx from the Halifax Mooseheads and Gabriel Fortier from the Baie-Comeau Drakkar during the trade period.
“When you play with better players it only elevates your game,” McKenna said. “It’s an exciting time. It’s going to be a fun second half.”
The Calgary Flames invited McKenna to their NHL training camp as a free agent and he signed a one-year contract with their AHL farm club, the Stockton Heat. Stockton reassigned him to the ECHL and he decided he would rather return to Moncton.
He walked away from a pro contract, betting on himself.
“At the end of the day, you just have to believe in yourself,” McKenna said. “If I got a deal like that last year, I think, if I continue to work on my game, I’ll at least be able to get a similar deal (if not) better.”
McKenna, known to some as the Summerside Sniper, hasn’t missed a beat in his final junior season, scoring 21 goals and setting up 18 more for 39 points in 29 games.
“I am lucky to be able to come back to such a great team and great organization,” McKenna said. “I think it’s going to work out in the end . . . playing big minutes and getting opportunities to showcase other parts of my game.”
The Wildcats haven’t been without some controversy in the first half.
Head coach and director of hockey operations John Torchetti left the team for personal reasons. The Wildcats released him on Dec. 14 and Dan Lacroix was hired as the new bench boss on Dec. 23.
“You kind of have to move on,” McKenna said. “I was lucky to have lots of good coaches in my life and John will definitely be one of them.”