Red and Black Hockey
by David Lee on 03/21/10 at 01:46 PM ET
Rookie defenseman Jamie McBain wasn’t expected to play on the Hurricanes this season. The Canes dismantled their blueline, then suffered a second bout of injuries, and this has bumped him not only up to the big team, but to the top pairing. Three games in, he’s doing a brilliant job of adjusting. All he’s done is put up four points in three games, including an assist on the game-winning goal on Thursday, and a buzzer-beating game-winning goal last night.
The 22-year old was the Hurricanes first selection in the 2006 Entry Draft. They didn’t have a first round selection, and took McBain in the second round with the 63rd overall selection. The product of the US National Developmental program spent three seasons with the University of Wisconsin before signing an entry level contract last spring. In the 2008-09 season, he led the Badgers with 37 (7/30) points, was the Western Collegiate Hockey Association player of the year, and was a Hobey Baker finalist.
This season with the Rats, McBain has done a great job, mostly for his acumen as an offensive-minded defenseman. His 40 (7/33) points is tenth among AHL defensemen, first among Rats defensemen and second among all Rats.
When the Hurricanes blew up their blueline at the trading deadline, they showed a much needed commitment to getting younger, and we all knew that McBain’s number would be called sooner than later. We still didn’t expect to see him this season. Tim Gleason suffered a broken foot last week, and that call was made. Canes defenseman Alex Picard suffered an “upper body injury” earlier this week, and it elevated McBain from seventh defenseman to first pairing. This quick climb to the top is sometimes too much pressure for a young player, but he’s really responded well. Everyone has been impressed, and coach Paul Maurice is perhaps the most impressed:
“This game is so much faster than the American League that normally for defensemen the first thing they have to adjust to is the pace. Beside the size and the speed, it’s the pace they do things at. So you often see them not confident with the puck ... but he hasn’t had an issue with that.”
Read more: from the N&O.
In his first game, a spirit-crushing 5-2 loss to the Bruins, McBain got an assist on Erik Cole’s first goal. In nearly 20 minutes of ice time, he looked comfortable and confident. Then on Thursday against the League-leading Washington Capitals, he had a really big game. In 25:29 of ice time, he had three blocked shots and a +2 rating. He also had an assist on Ray Whitney’s game-winning goal.
On Saturday, against another amazing team, he had his best game yet. 29:50 of ice time was second only to the minutes machine Joni Pitkanen, who had a staggering 34:30 of ice time. For comparison’s sake, the Penguin with the most TOI was Sergei Gonchar, who logged 24:50. McBain turned the puck over a few times and was on the receiving end of a few big hits, but he still looked really good out there. He assisted on an incredible goal by Zach Boychuk, and he scored a buzzer-beating goal with nine-tenths of a second remaining on the overtime clock.
Four points in three games. Any player in the league will take that kind of a week
It’s surprising how comfortable he seems out there, but that might have something to do with the number of familiar faces he’s seeing in the locker room. Of the 20 guys in the room today, seven started the season in Albany, and six of them have spent significant time there this season.
McBain will have another big test today against the Northeast division leading Buffalo Sabres.
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About Red and Black Hockey
David Lee is a restaurant manager with an unused degree in political science. He can be found at Carolina Hurricanes games, Scrabble tournaments and indie-rock shows. Sometimes, all in the same day.