Captain to Crunch: McNamee setting groundwork in AHL after acclaimed Carleton career

(Photo: Michael P. Hall / Scott Thomas Photography)
(Photo: Michael P. Hall / Scott Thomas Photography)

By: Peter Rukavina, Carleton Ravens

Swapping black for blue and bird for superhero, Mike McNamee has made a leap that few have landed. After signing an amateur tryout contract with the Syracuse Crunch at the beginning of March, McNamee is the newest addition to an AHL divisional leader and is one step closer to a career that hundreds of student-athletes fight tooth-and-nail for.

Following a full, four-year Canadian university career with the Carleton Ravens, the Perth, ON-native immediately came to terms with the semi-pro group, who farms prospects for the NHL's Tampa Bay Lightning. And while prominent U SPORTS players occasionally see glimpses of AHL action, the reality of becoming an instant on-ice regular is an achievement few can claim.

"Obviously, the goal is to move on and try and make a living out of what you love so I'm just happy I'm getting an opportunity to try and do that," says McNamee, the first U SPORTS graduate to lineup in consecutive AHL games this season. "I wouldn't have never predicted I'd sign [a contract] immediately after my final season."

Not only has McNamee signed, but, in his opening seven games, he has made his way onto the scoresheet. His trademark on-ice vision that generated 85 regular-season U SPORTS assists made itself known in front of a Leigh Valley, Pennsylvania crowd on a night that saw McNamee's Crunch topple the opposing Phantoms in overtime.

(Scott Thomas Photography)

This vision, paired with a sharp-shooting skillset, was evident from day one. In his 2013 career opener against the Windsor Lancers, McNamee's three-point night (2G, 1A) would set the tone for what would be a team-leading, All-Rookie, and All-Star season. But, like all developing, prominent talents, he was far from the player that he is today.

"If we're being honest, [Mike] was, without a doubt, an elite offensive talent while defence was probably a secondary part of his game," admits Ravens head coach Marty Johnston, who coached McNamee from his freshman starts to his senior farewell. "But with that said, he committed to a 200-foot game that translated into recognition and respect from all throughout the league and other coaches."

Crediting coach Johnston, Ryan Medel, and Shaun Van Allen, as well as versed strength and conditioning coach Nick Westcott, McNamee is quick to point out that he was surrounded by professionals on a daily basis.

"When I got to Carleton I was lucky enough to have a coaching staff and team that allowed me to grow, love the game, and want to become better," recalls McNamee. "The coaches and trainers devote countless hours a day in hopes of providing and creating a winning atmosphere for their players. Overall, it's just a high-class program and facility."

But while McNamee's honesty merits what the Ravens' program has done for him, he humbly omits what he has done for the program.

Throughout his career, the former Ravens captain was a consistent top-two team scorer while also claiming three top-ten OUA scoring finishes. As a result, McNamee tallied six OUA award honours and, most recently, a U SPORTS First Team All-Star nomination.

"There was an unmistakable winning attitude and atmosphere," says McNamee, whose four years saw the Ravens place no lower than fourth in their division. "It allowed me to make these accomplishments and to continue loving the game."

Alongside countless other talents that have dawned the Ravens' logo, he played an undeniable role in Carleton's claim of OUA bronze medals in 2014 and 2016. With both medal finishes, the Ravens earned their first two University Cup appearances since the team's 2007 rebirth, the most recent of which saw McNamee record a game-tying assist in Carleton's storied quadruple-overtime loss to the Saskatchewan Huskies.

Even more, throughout these seasons came moments of near-unprecedented dominance. The accumulation of hat-trick performances, power-play onslaughts, and consistent multi-point nights allowed McNamee to leave his mark as a program great, finishing with the second-most points (135) in the team's modern-era history.

"I felt, at our level, the game was slow for him while, for most, it's a real quick game," explains Johnston. "Mike had the ability to slow the game down and make the right plays and that's why, to me, he was the best forward in the league."

In reflection, McNamee says his time at Carleton has been invaluable. He recounts those who supported him as a student-athlete and the friendship of 85-plus teammates that came into his life as reasons that turned his once uneasy decision of enrolling into a clear-cut choice.

(Scott Thomas Photography)

"I went from absolutely hating the thought of school to it being the hardest thing I've ever parted ways with," says McNamee. "I learned a lot about myself; the things I was capable of, what it was like to live on my own, and how to balance hockey, school, and a social life."

Now, at 24 years-of-age, McNamee, who was studying towards a degree in psychology, continues to settle into a life without libraries, classrooms, or textbooks. He recalls nerves that he hasn't felt in a long time, a feeling that will likely carry forward as the Crunch prepares for its remaining 12 regular season games and a promising playoff berth.

But among all the change and preparation he will experience, McNamee is adamant in saying he will take with him the memories that have made his time as a Raven unforgettable.

"Carleton gave me an outlook on life that I never ever thought I'd have. To sum it up, I'd say it was four of the best years of my life so far. For those who shared it with me, thank you!"