Brandon McNally’s quest to achieve the next level hasn’t gone unnoticed

Author: Spencer Walker for PHPA.com
Date: Oct 17, 2017

Brandon McNally always knew he wanted to play professional hockey after college and was willing to put in the work to get there.  Since graduating from Dartmouth College in 2015, McNally has split time between the American Hockey League and ECHL where he currently plays for the Cincinnati Cyclones.  After getting a taste of the highest level during a try-out with the Montreal Canadiens, the work he is putting in to get back to the AHL hasn’t gone unnoticed.

McNally grew up in Saugus, Massachusetts, a town of approximately 27,000 people 20 minutes outside of Boston and attended Belmont Hill High, a prep school in Boston.  A multi-sport athlete during his time at Belmont, McNally played hockey and football, while participating in cross country, track, and weight lifting until the tenth grade when he decided to focus his efforts completely on hockey. 

“School was 50 minutes away from my house and my parents had to drive me back and forth. I would be at school for 8am and had practice after so I wouldn’t get home until 7pm most nights,” recalled McNally.  “I just battled and followed through on it. I owe a lot to Belmont Hill because they really helped me and pushed me along the way.”

McNally credits both his Mom and Dad for being his biggest supporters throughout his hockey career. “My parents, they were at all the games, and always told me the truth, not sugar coating anything which is good.  That’s all you really want to hear from someone.  Maybe not at the time, but looking back they were right.”

However, sports were not his only focus at Belmont.  “Belmont is a great sports school, yet it was really focused on academics, which helped me when I attended Dartmouth.  Getting into an Ivy League school I wasn’t sure what to expect.  I’m not a genius but I worked really hard at it.”

Following a successful high school career, McNally earned a hockey scholarship to Dartmouth College where he spent 4 years majoring in English. He had been drafted by the Moncton Wildcats of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, but opted to go the college route.  “My parents always wanted me to finish school.  It was important to me as well.”

McNally tallied 65 points in 105 games over the course of his college career and impressed scouts of the Montreal Canadiens so much that he earned a professional try-out contract following his senior year to play the remaining portion of the 2014-15 season with the Hamilton Bulldogs, the AHL affiliate of the Montreal Canadiens at the time.

Although McNally always dreamed of playing for his hometown Boston Bruins, he admits signing with a rival franchise like the Habs wasn’t easy. “It was kind of tough to sign with the Canadiens because I am from Boston. My family is a big time Boston sports family.  They were happy for me but they wish it was a different team to be honest.”  The Boston-Montreal rivalry didn’t stop his family from being his biggest supporters.  McNally recalls his family surprising him in Alaska to watch him play as one of his favorite memories from his early professional career.

The transition to the professional level from college also didn’t come without it’s set of challenges. “I had a good time in Hamilton at first but it was tough, I didn’t really think I fit in there and it was really hard for me.”

The biggest challenge of the transition to pro hockey was the speed of the game and the consistency of the players in the league. McNally also states that the heavier professional schedule was grueling and tough to get accustom to at first, but he believes he has done a good job of adjusting to a new level of play. “I have really worked on my skating the past couple years and I think I’ve done a good job of getting stronger and faster. The speed of the game was tough at first and just how consistent guys are, everyone brings it every day.  It was different than college where we only played 25-30 games a year so the schedule was a little more grueling.  I play a big and physical game so I wasn’t too far behind on that.”

His on-ice and off-ice attitude helped him earn another contract with Montreal. “They liked what I brought to the table during my try-out with Hamilton so I got a second opportunity, and signed with them again as the team was transitioning to St. John’s, Newfoundland.  I played the whole year there and felt more comfortable, and it was a great experience.”

McNally attend the Montreal Canadiens’ training camp the next fall, even getting a chance to play in the red and white game during the team’s main camp. McNally recalls that experience as one of the most memorable of his hockey career and after a brief taste of the big leagues, found himself motivated to get to the highest level possible.  “I went to Montreal’s main training camp and that just gives you even more motivation to try and work your way up because of how well they treat you.  I played in the red-white game at the Bell Centre and it was sold out.  Skating onto the ice I was just like ‘Wow this is incredible.’”

McNally split last season between the Utah Grizzlies and Cincinnati Cyclones in the ECHL, while playing two games in the AHL with the San Diego Gulls.  He notched 34 points in 66 games while accumulating 188 penalty minutes.  At 6’2 and 212 pounds, McNally played a physical role, often coming to the aid of his teammates.  Following the season as the Professional Hockey Players’ Association (PHPA) conducted its annual Player Voted Awards, McNally was voted by his peers as the recipient of the PHPA Built Tough Award, awarded to the player considered by his peers to be the toughest in their respective conference.  A player who is always there for his teammates and helps make his team one of the most challenging to play against.

“For me, the team comes first.  I play hard every single night and I’m willing to stand up for my teammates.  It’s nice to know that other players from around the league recognize that.  I’ve always tried to be a good teammate and person in general, so it really meant a lot to me that the guys in the league respect the way that I play.”

McNally understands that playing professional hockey for a living is a privilege and an honor, but he is not finished working to get to where he wants to be.  During the off-season, McNally re-signed with the Cyclones where he sees an opportunity to move up within the organization.  As Cincinnati starts a new affiliation with the Buffalo Sabres and Rochester Americans, McNally has his eyes set on an opportunity to get called up the AHL at some point throughout the year.

“I was in Rochester’s camp earlier this year and felt like this is where I want to be. I’m never really satisfied.  I always want to do the best I can, so this year with Cincy I’m just going to do whatever it takes to help the team and try to take on a leadership role and hopefully get called up during the year.”

During the off-season, McNally focused on his training, yet also values time spent with family.  “My sister is in college in Texas right now so I don’t get to see her at all during the year.  It was nice to go home, relax, and see her for the summer.”

McNally also enlisted the help of power skating coach Tim Driscoll.  “Tim played at Princeton and in the AHL and was kind of a mentor for me this summer.  He helped me with my skating and I worked for him helping younger kids with their skating.  Just someone else to tell you the truth and be on your side. You look up to someone who has been there and knows what it takes to get to the level where you want to be.”

Driscoll described McNally as a rink rat, which in his opinion is rare at the professional level.  McNally spent up to 8 hours a day on the ice this summer working on his game while helping local kids improve their skills.  Driscoll credits McNally with putting in a lot of work this summer specifically in regards to his skating.  “The thing that I credit Brandon with is being smart enough to know you can never be too good of a skater. He was able to get on the ice and work on it a ton, and what I was really impressed with beyond the fact he recognized he could be a better skater, even though I would argue at the professional level he was already in the top quartile of skaters, was the amount of work that he put in and how quickly he was able to improve.  For me it’s refreshing to see a professional recognize they can make improvements in their game.  I think he’ll have a big bump in production this year.”

 

 

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