Ice Breakers defenseman Thomas McKinnon Hopes to Open Doors for More British Exports
Ice Breakers defenseman Thomas McKinnon hopes to open doors for more British exports
By Chris Lillstrung of The News-Herald | email@example.com
Mentor, OH - The Ice Breakers' roster is full of players eager to find their footing in hockey, hopefully one day on a larger stage.
For Thomas McKinnon, that meant taking a lot of steps to find that footing in the early going a long way from home.
Mentor has emerged from the Federal Hockey League basement in its inaugural season, winning three of four since an 0-6 start to stand at 3-7 on the year.
A big jump-start to that came Nov. 21 with a 4-3 victory over FHL-leading Carolina, during which the decisive tally came from McKinnon on a wrister from high in the zone in the third period for his first FHL goal.
"We're a young group of guys," McKinnon said. "That certainly gets the heart racing."
The Ice Breakers followed that up by splitting a Thanksgiving weekend home-and-home with the Thunderbirds in Winston-Salem, a 6-5 loss Nov. 22 and a 3-0 win Nov. 24.
Through 10 games, the 21-year-old defenseman has that aforementioned game-winning goal and three assists to his credit.
He has a lot of miles on the road to his credit as well.
McKinnon was born on New Year's Eve in 1996 in Irvine, Scotland, a coastal town about 30 miles southwest of Glasgow on the Firth of Clyde. As a child, he and his family emigrated across the sea to Carrowdore, Northern Ireland, in the eastern suburbs of Belfast.
"I was born in Scotland, and then when my parents moved to Northern Ireland, I think I was 6," McKinnon said. "My dad, he played hockey for 'X' amount of years, and he was the one who got me into it. He was my coach from 3 up until I was 16, 17. So he got me into it.
"There's so (many memories), I don't even know where to begin. The one I remember, he would always coach the older guys, the men, and I was just a little kid. He'd bring me out, and I'd have the time of my life."
McKinnon spent time in the youth system with the Belfast Giants, who play in the United Kingdom's Elite Ice Hockey League. In 2013-14, McKinnon logged eight games with the Giants' 20-and-under team, scoring 10 goals.
For the next step of his hockey journey, he envisioned it at 17 years old outside the UK and heading to Canada to further test his skill.
"Moving away from home – I had to grow up," McKinnon said. "When you move away from home, you miss things. But it's time to grow up at some point and try some new things in life."
In 2014-15, McKinnon logged 42 games with the Cambridge Bears in the Greater Metro Junior A Hockey League, with three goals and 13 assists. The franchise lasted one season in the GMHL and was taken out of the league by its owners.
McKinnon spent his next GMHL campaign with the Seguin Huskies, with five goals and seven assists in 27 games.
For the last two seasons, he was a fixture for the Kingsville Kings in the GMHL, with 75 regular-season games and 11 playoff games. He recorded 19 goals and 42 assists.
"It took me a long time to figure out some things," McKinnon said of picking up the style of the game in North America. "I started off my first year in Canada and had 140 penalty minutes. Not good enough. So I gradually got better and better and better."
That path to improvement has now brought him into the FHL and to Northeast Ohio with the Ice Breakers. McKinnon saw some ice time in the FHL last season with the North Shore Knights before finding a more permanent address with Mentor.
"I actually have to give it up to the Kingsville Kings organization, my junior team," McKinnon said. "They had a team, North Shore, in the (FHL). It wasn't the greatest, but it got the door open for guys like me and even (Carolina's Petr Panacek), who I played with in Kingsville last year. And there's a lot of other guys around the league that played on my team. Patrick Porkka, he played on North Shore.
"I'm sure those guys all owe it to that organization, too, for just taking a chance on them and letting them play."
On an Ice Breakers team that has already endured a lot of roster turnover, McKinnon is getting his chance to play.
Like his counterparts, he was eager to find his footing in hockey. And he hopes it leads to further opportunities for his compatriots abroad.
"It's nice to be recognized and stuff like that," McKinnon said. "A couple of my buddies, they've actually done the same thing as I did. I actually copied one of them. He originally came over first, then I did and a couple more came over the past couple years.
"So everyone that's growing up is kind of coming over here and giving it a try for themselves, and it's nice to see. Everyone is just kind of following in each other's footsteps. Hopefully it doesn't end here. Hopefully it keeps going and going and going."
Photo credit: Paul DiCicco of The News-Herald