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14-year-old Yukoner chosen 1st overall in Western Hockey League draft

Whitehorse's Gavin McKenna, 14, who scored 65 points in 35 games on a U18 team, was drafted by the Medicine Hat Tigers.

Gavin McKenna was selected by the Medicine Hat Tigers

A smiling teenage boy wears a hockey jersey featuring a roaring tiger.
Gavin McKenna, 14, from Whitehorse, was chosen first overall in the 2022 Western Hockey League draft on Thursday. (Submitted by Krystal McKenna)

A 14-year-old hockey player from Whitehorse who was the top scorer in a U18 league last season was chosen first overall in the Western Hockey League (WHL) draft Thursday.

Gavin McKenna, who scored 65 points in 35 games as a member of the Rink Hockey Academy Kelowna U18 team, was drafted by the Medicine Hat Tigers.

"It was awesome," said McKenna. "I had all my team with me, so they all got pretty excited. It's just a surreal feeling." 

He is the first Yukoner to be drafted first overall in the WHL.

Gavin McKenna at a North American invitational tournament in 2018, hosted by Belfry Hockey. Only 64 players were invited. McKenna's team won. (Submitted by Krystal McKenna)

McKenna, who is also Indigenous, said his play making and his ability to play at a high speed are probably his biggest assets as a hockey player.

"I think I see the game well and I also know how to score," he added.

McKenna will turn 15 in December and play the bulk of next season with the Tigers' academy team in Medicine Hat. However, he said the hockey organization told him he'll also get to play about 15 to 20 games with the Tigers.

Develop his game

McKenna was granted exceptional status last June by B.C. Hockey to be able to play for the Kelowna hockey academy team in the Canadian Sport School Hockey League's U18 division.

Playing with the Kelowna Hockey Academy team in that division with older players last season gave him an opportunity to further develop his game, said McKenna.

"We did five days of hockey week and five workouts a week as well," he said.

McKenna is listed as being five feet 10 inches tall and weighing 150 lbs.

He said he's going to work on getting stronger and putting on some weight over the summer.

"And one thing I could work on is my shot, which everyone could always work on," he said.

Reaction

Word of his selection spread quickly. 

His mother, Krystal, a teacher at a Whitehorse school, said people kept going in and out of her classroom to congratulate her and her family.

"I just went for a run and came back and [had] 29 missed messages [on my phone]. So the community is definitely pretty excited to have another Yukoner have his name out there in the hockey world. So it's pretty cool," she said, referring to Whitehorse's Dylan Cozens, who plays for the Buffalo Sabres and who, in 2019, was the first Yukoner to be drafted in the first round in the NHL.

"It's overwhelming, to be honest, at this point," Krystal said.

Gavin McKenna when he was a toddler, sleeping with a hockey stick, puck and glove. (Submitted by Krystal McKenna)

She said her son has almost always had a hockey stick in his hand since he learned to walk and talk.

"I have lots of pictures of him falling asleep with either a helmet on or a puck beside him, or a hockey stick literally in his hand or hockey gloves. So since he's been a baby, he's just been wanting this," she said.

Gavin said his ultimate goal is to make the NHL.

He's watching the playoffs right now to study the game and see what he can improve upon, paying especially close attention to Nathan McKinnon, a star player with the Colorado Avalanche.

Written by Michel Proulx with files from George Maratos and Dave White

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