May 5, 2023 | SPORTS | By Michael Braithwaite, Co-Editor-In-Chief

The Colorado College hockey program concluded their 2022-2023 season with a loss to No. 7 St. Cloud State University in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference Championship in March. While a disappointing finish to the season, the loss finished up a great run for the Tigers, who came into the year with little to no expectations and ended it just one win away from an NCAA playoff bid.

As the team headed back to Colorado Springs, one player was already looking towards their future. Forward Hunter McKown ‘24, who led all of Division I men’s hockey with 14 power play goals in the regular season, was eligible to sign with a professional team as an amateur free agent, and NHL teams were interested in his services.

“Everything was just happening so fast,” said McKown. “There wasn’t a lot of time for me to really think about it.”

Just two days after donning a CC gold sweater in the NCHC Championship, McKown signed a three-year entry-level contract with the NHL’s Columbus Blue Jackets. Just four days after that, he made his professional debut wearing red, white, and blue, and competing on the ice with players he grew up watching on TV.

It was not an easy road to the NHL for McKown. He qualified for the U.S. World Junior team in his mid-teens but failed to qualify again in numerous years afterward. However, in the summer of 2022, with the backing of a new coaching staff that helped him finally get positive results on the ice, McKown claimed one of the last spots on the U.S Junior World roster and excelled with the team.   

“To make it back there was a big confidence booster for me; it was really just an affirmation of what [skill] I felt like I was gaining as a player,” said McKown. “I’d played with a lot of them before and so it was fun to be back with those guys.”

That confidence carried over into the fall college season. Not only did McKown lead the NCAA in power play goals, but he also led the Tigers in points and shots while serving as a prominent feature of CC’s offensive attack.

While multiple NHL teams were interested in bringing him in after the NCAA season concluded, McKown felt like the Blue Jackets gave him the welcoming environment and career opportunity he wanted.

“It’s a great locker room. There’s not a lot of egos … they made me feel welcome right away,” said McKown. “And Columbus is a really underrated city – it doesn’t get talked about a lot and I had no idea about it until I really started looking into things and it was awesome.”

One thing the Blue Jackets also offered McKown was the chance to play his more natural position. While he had played most of the second half of the college season at wing, Columbus offered him the opportunity to play center, a position which McKown feels better suits his skillset.

“Ultimately, I wanted to be in the middle,” said McKown. “There’s maybe a little bit more standing around when you’re playing wing. I’m not a quick twitch [player]. I’m more of a long [stride] player; that’s how I get to my speed.”

Despite his collegiate success, McKown knew it would not be a seamless transition into the NHL. The larger players and faster game speeds have thus far prevented him from using his physicality to test opponents like he did in college.

However, with 12 professional games now under his belt, he’s looking forward to further honing his skills away from the familiar confines of Ed Robson Arena.

“I’m eternally grateful for what I was given here with the opportunity,” said McKown. “There were some tough years when I was playing at the U.S. program – I wasn’t playing very much, I lost all my confidence, and I just didn’t know what was going to happen with things. With Coach Mayotte and his staff coming in, they allowed me to blossom into what I felt I could be.”

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