McRae battles to keep his frustration down

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 9:04 AM ET

In a year that has produced a lot of surprising statistics for the London Knights, this figure is one of the most surprising.

It's the zero in the goal column next to Phil McRae's name.

McRae was the Knights first-round draft choice in last spring's Ontario Hockey League draft. Selected with the 20th pick, the 16-year-old was projected to go much higher. But many teams passed on him because they were worried he would opt to stay with the under-17 United States national team program.

The scouting reports were unanimous when it came to his offensive attributes: great hands and an ability to find the back of the net.

It's been 25 games and McRae has found the side of the net, both posts, the crossbar, every piece of equipment the goaltender has on his body, shin pads, sticks and skates but still no back of the net.

"I'm pretty frustrated," McRae said. "I'm getting more chances and I know it will come soon.

"But I'm still worried I'm not scoring. I know if I get down and get more frustrated, it won't come any quicker. So I have to stay positive, I guess."

It's been a tough grind for McRae. He's young and inexperienced. He's over six feet tall and still growing, but he has to fill out and get stronger. Playing against bigger, developed players has been a chore.

Even though his team is doing well, the longer he goes without a goal, the more pressure will be on him to score and the tighter he'll be gripping his hockey stick.

"Everybody wants to score goals. He's had his opportunities," Knights coach Dale Hunter said. "The chances will come. He has to take care of his own end. Play good defensively in the neutral zone. Don't push the issue. He's a young kid. (The scoring) will come if he plays good defence because it gets your offence going. It takes time to figure out the league sometimes."

There is a common trait among great scorers in any sports. It's an intensity around the net that allows them to focus only on one thing and that's putting the puck in the net. Even in practice, goal scorers don't fool around. They bury every opportunity available to score.

In a recent game against the Sarnia Sting, McRae had one of his best chances to score. With the game tied in the last minute of play, McRae found himself just off to the side of the net with Sting goaltender Sebastian Dahm down and out. With three-quarters of the net to shoot at, McRae hit the side of the net.

"I wasn't ready for it. I have to bear down a lot more," McRae said.

"I think it was a big step up into this league," McRae said. "I needed to get adjusted to it. I think it's been enough time. I need to start scoring now.

"I need to get more desperate to score. I need to be intense and to want to score."

McRae has been getting more time on the power play and more ice time in an effort to help him out of his scoring slump.

Hunter said he hasn't talked to McRae about his goalless streak.

"We keep on him to shoot the puck hard in practice, keep driving to the net, get rebounds," Hunter said. "It doesn't have to be a pretty goal. It can go off your shin pads, just keep driving to the net and it will go in.

"Everyone is rooting for him to do it. Sometimes when you are in a slump, and I've been in slumps, you just have to go back to the basics. You can't go out on the ice and all you think of is scoring. You have to get it out of your own end first. Then you have to get through the neutral zone and then you got to drive to the net."

As a long-time National Hockey League player, Hunter understands the ups and downs of the game. All goal scorers go through slumps.

"I was just watching (the Philadelphia Flyers) play and we know what kind of a good player Mike Richards is," said Hunter. "He went through 40 games -- 20 last year and 20 this year -- and finally scored. It's one of those things. You score once and it's like grapes, it comes in bunches."

For now, McRae would settle for just one.


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