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“GRADE-A PLAYER”: JOSH MCKECHNEY, SCHOLAR ATHLETE

Thursday, April 11th
“GRADE-A PLAYER”: JOSH MCKECHNEY, SCHOLAR ATHLETE

By Mark Binetti – Senior Director of Communications & Team Services/Broadcaster

It’s that time of year again: in about a month or so, students from all levels of education will walk across a stage in a cap and gown, have their name read by an announcer, and receive a diploma or a degree for varying academic disciplines from an academic institution. For some, the diploma signifies the end of academic life. For others, it’s the beginning of the next stage in their time spent in education.

One of the beauties of education, especially in the collegiate ranks, is the marriage of academics and athletics. It’s a synergy of brains and brawn that allow men and women to prepare themselves for their next stage of life. In Canada, you pursue higher academics and athletics through U Sports, formerly Canadian Interuniversity Sport, or CIS. In the United States, it’s the National Collegiate Athletic Association, or the NCAA. To this effect, the NCAA had a campaign that continues to ring true to this day: “almost all of us will be going pro in something other than sports.”

The Greenville Swamp Rabbits have a healthy mix of players that come from the major-junior or collegiate ranks in both Canada and the US. Out of 26 players currently rostered, 19 skaters have played collegiately at some point in their career, whether through U Sports or the NCAA.

As the team gears up to celebrate local educators this Friday during “Teacher Appreciation Night”, the importance of education is not lost on Swamp Rabbits forward Josh McKechney, who has utilized academics to propel him to great heights in hockey. Even though his undergraduate days at Colgate University are two years in the rearview mirror, he continues to pursue his academic goals, setting himself up for just as much success off the ice as he’s achieved on it. 

The second-leading goal scorer of the Swamp Rabbits, McKechney is currently pursuing a Masters of Business Administration through Bellevue University, the official higher education partner of the ECHL. Earlier this season, he was awarded a scholarship from the ECHL through their partnership with the school, one of five players, coaches, and on-ice officials pursuing their education there.

The importance of education was emphasized to McKechney at a young age, beginning his educational journey in his hometown of Calgary, Alberta.

“I think, for me, my success in the classroom comes from the home I was raised in, growing up with my parents,” McKechney recalled. “They really preached doing well in school and how important it is in life, so they made sure to impress on my brother and I to dedicate time to performing well in the classroom. They stressed focusing on academics, but also finding a balance with hockey because you need both of those aspects of life.”

McKechney knew early that collegiate hockey was a path he wanted to travel down and had a choice between pursuing college in his native country or coming stateside to continue his hockey journey. He recognized that phenomenal professionals come out of both associations, but he was fixated on the NCAA in the United States.

“I have ties to the University of Saskatchewan through my parents, especially with my father playing hockey there,” he continued. “There are some outstanding players that have prolonged hockey careers out of U Sports, but the way things aligned for me hockey-wise was to play junior in Alberta and hope for a scholarship to play in the United States. Luckily enough, I garnered some interest from a few American colleges.”

McKechney’s brilliant junior career in Alberta paved the way for an NCAA scouting audience. As a member of the Alberta Junior Hockey League’s Brooks Bandits over two-plus seasons, he finished five points shy of a career point-per-game pace, earning 34 goals, 82 assists, and 116 points in 121 contests. Sharing the same sweater as current teammates Nick Prkusic and Arnaud Vachon, as well as 2022 Stanley Cup Champion Cale Makar, McKechney helped the Bandits to back-to-back AJHL titles in 2016 and 2017.

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Photo: SaskToday.ca

This success provided the young forward with a number of collegiate opportunities. He had in-depth conversations with a few schools, Cornell University and Dartmouth College to name a few, but it was Colgate University in Hamilton, New York, that caught his eye. 

“I had actually never been to New York before, and the summer before my freshman year, my family and I went to New York City for the first time,” McKechney remembers. “I remember just hearing about what the school had to offer, and talking to the coaches, I really liked their ideology of where they saw the program and the schooling component. I knew it was a great academic institution, which factored heavily in my decision.

“Obviously, you want to play as long as possible and have the best opportunity to play at the highest level. However, you also want that academic background to rely on when you are done on the ice, so that was a huge part of it,” he continued. “It was a smaller school, and I really liked that. You get to know everyone, get close with teachers, and grow a bunch of relationships and friendships with players on different sports teams. It was a great decision on my part, and I thoroughly enjoyed my time there.”

On the ice, McKechney called himself a Colgate Raider for five seasons, amassing 33 goals, 46 assists, and 79 points in 173 games. Among his highlights with the university, he was a Steve Riggs Memorial Award recipient for gentlemanly conduct in each of his last four seasons (2019-2022), and in 2020-21 was named ECAC First Team All-Conference and Colgate’s Best Offensive Player, leading the team with 13 points, including a team-leading three shorthanded goals. 

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For as much success as he had on the ice for the Raiders, he shined even more so in the classroom: McKechney was named to the ECAC’s All-Academic team twice (2021, 2022), named to the Raiders Academic Honor Roll three times (2019, 2021, and 2022), and was named an AHCA/Krampade Academic All-American Scholar in his final season in 2022. In 2021, he graduated with a degree in economics, but one of his assistant coaches, Dana Borges, convinced him to come back for a fifth season, doable because of the extra year of NCAA eligibility afforded because of the Covid-19 pandemic. In his final year in 2021-22, McKechney pursued a minor in rhetoric and writing, and officially walked across the stage that May.

“I wanted to do something business or finance related, but Colgate didn’t have those degree programs. I really wanted to go to Colgate, and they offered economics, so I went that route for my degree,” McKechney explained. “It was fun to study, and most of my teammates also pursued economics, so we got to go to class and study together. In my final year, writing and rhetoric was appealing, so I declared that as a minor. I already graduated, but I pushed my walking date back to complete my minor and finished up officially in 2022. Having a degree from Colgate is a prestigious honor, so I’m proud I was able to accomplish earning that.”

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With his schooling completed, McKechney turned professional with the Atlanta Gladiators, making his pro debut on April 9, 2022, in a 5-3 win at home against the Jacksonville Icemen. A week later, he posted his first two professional points, an assist each in two games against the Florida Everblades to close out the year.

The next season, McKechney’s first full professional campaign, he began with the Maine Mariners, playing five games before he was dealt to the Wheeling Nailers. After recording four points, including his first professional goal, he was then traded to Greenville and has been here ever since. He blazed through last season in a Swamp Rabbits sweater, racking up 36 points in 51 games, and later added a pair of goals and assists in six Kelly Cup Playoff appearances.

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He always knew a graduate degree was a goal he wanted to pursue, but wasn’t quite sure how it would work out being a full-time athlete. That is, until this season, when he enrolled at Bellevue University, the official higher education partner of the ECHL.

One of the component’s of the league’s partnership is providing scholarships each season to select individuals, ranging from players, to coaches, and even on-ice officials. McKechney applied for and received one of those scholarships to continue the pursuit of his MBA, joining Idaho Steelheads forward Colton Kehler (Undergraduate Degree), Kalamazoo Wings Assistant Coach Kohl Schultz (Graduate Degree), and ECHL referees Evan Reddick (Graduate Degree) and Trevor Wohlford (Undergraduate Degree) as fellow recipients.

“At the start of the year, [Head Coach Andrew Lord] shared the opportunity with our entire team to apply for this scholarship. I was immediately interested,” McKechney emphatically stated. “The application process was seamless, but it was the references I received that I feel ultimately gave me the push to get the scholarship. To that effect, I’m forever grateful to Todd Mackin, Spire Holdings President, and Coach Lord for vouching for me. I can’t thank them enough for their support in this process.”

Both of his supporters have gone through nearly identical paths as McKechney. Mackin played basketball at Northwest Missouri State University while earning a bachelors degree in marketing and finance, and later earned a masters degree in finance from the University of Missouri-Kansas City, serving as a graduate assistant of the basketball team. Lord, on the other hand, played his college hockey at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute as he completed his bachelors degree in business management, and later earned an MBA at Cardiff Metropolitan University while playing and coaching for the EIHL’s Cardiff Devils in Wales.

“Lordo has been an amazing support. I really can’t thank him enough,” he continued. “He’s been behind me every step of the way, and having done it himself in a similar fashion to how I’m pursuing mine, he’s a great wealth of knowledge in that respect.”

As it obviously sounds, there are challenges to being a professional athlete and a student simultaneously.

“You have to learn how to work efficiently. There has to be a healthy balance between both worlds,” McKechney elaborated. “Hockey is my full-time job. It’s what I live and breathe, but when you’re done with practice or games though, you have to switch the hats you have on and get to work academically. It challenges you to make the most of your time and be efficient, especially considering we play our games primarily on the weekend. I try to accomplish as much as I can midweek so I can continue to put all of my focus on hockey and helping the Swamp Rabbits win a Kelly Cup Championship.

McKechney enrolled last November, and says the program is based on 12-week semesters, with two classes per semester. The classes are “asynchronous online”, meaning the instructor and students engage with the course content at different times from different locations via the internet. At his current pace, he is slated to graduate with his MBA from Bellevue University in May of 2025.

“With it being ‘Teacher Appreciation Night’, I can’t thank our educators enough for what they do for our children, and even for myself in pursuing my MBA,” he concluded. “There are way too many teachers in my life that come to mind on a night like this. My professors at Bellevue are phenomenal and understanding, and willing to support you however they can. From Colgate, Professor Lynn Staley was my academic advisor, and she really helped me through my journey in undergrad in getting to where I am today. It takes so much, and I’m grateful for all educators have done and continue to do.”

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