Joe McKeown hasn’t had many opportunities to play in a game this season.
But when the Bowling Green freshman is in the lineup, he strives to make the most of his chance.
The forward did just that, totaling one goal and one assist and an on-ice rating of +1 in the Falcons’ 6-2, 6-2 sweep of Alaska-Anchorage in the Ice Arena.
McKeown — whose last name is pronounced MICK-yewn — had a goal and an assist during Thursday’s game. The goal was his first at BG, coming on a wrist shot from the left circle. He skated a regular shift on left wing with center Shane Bednard and right wing Brent Tate.
McKeown’s goal gave BG a 3-1 lead at 7:59 of the second period, coming just eight seconds after teammate Stephen Baylis broke a 1-1 tie. He later assisted on Brandon Hawkins’ goal that gave BG a 4-1 lead at 10:38 of the second period.
The line had five shots in the game, including three by McKeown. McKeown, Tate and Bednard each were +2 in the game.
McKeown’s goal also was first point at BG.
“It’s a great feeling to finally score and contribute,” McKeown said after Thursday’s game.
McKeown’s games against UAA were just his third and fourth of the season.
He also played in BG’s 4-2 win at Canisius Oct. 20 and 3-2 overtime victory at home against Alabama-Huntsville Nov. 20.
“His practices since we got back on Dec. 26 have been as good as anybody on our team,” BG coach Chris Bergeron said after Thursday’s game when asked what earned McKeown the chance to play against UAA.
“The first half, Joe was thinking a whole lot and trying to do things right and ended up not doing a whole lot which happens to freshmen,” Bergeron added. “Even in the games he got a chance to play, he wasn’t out there playing. Over the last three weeks or whatever it is, he’s been out there playing. He deserved to play tonight. It’s nice to see him get rewarded.”
McKeown said he’s just trying to read and react in each situation during practice and now games, instead of overthinking every play.
“I’m just playing and being the player I can be, instead of thinking too much,” McKeown said. “I feel a lot more comfortable, and I’m more relaxed.”
McKeown’s line also skated a regular shift Friday, but McKeown didn’t play as much overall since he doesn’t play on the power play or kill penalties. Twenty-three of the game’s 60 minutes were played with one of the teams on the power play.
The line was on the ice when UAA scored its second goal. McKeown had one shot on goal in the game.
“I try to treat every practice like a game and battle out there,” McKeown said. “You have to win those games in practice to earn the opportunity to be in the lineup on game night.
“You have to stay positive because you can’t get down on yourself or let your situation affect how you play,” McKeown added. “Hopefully, this is something I can build on, and it can help me keep going.”
Even when McKeown played against Canisius and Alabama-Huntsville, he didn’t skate a regular shift.
“Joe’s been in and out of the lineup, and it’s always huge as a freshman to get your first goal,” BG senior forward Mark Cooper said after Thurday’s game.
Cooper scored his first career goal in just his second game as a Falcon. His first BG goal came on the power play in a 5-3 loss Oct. 12, 2012 at home against Union.
“I remember mine,” Cooper said. “It was a huge relief. It makes you feel like you can play at the D-I level.”
McKeown, who turned 21 years old in September, is 6-foot-2, 204 pounds.
“He can be a physical presence, and he has a great shot,” Cooper said. “He creates space for his linemates, and he can make plays when he has the puck.”
McKeown came to BG after playing three seasons with the Wellington Dukes in the Ontario Junior Hockey League. He had 54 goals and 71 assists in 172 games regular-season and playoff games. Last season, McKeown had 30 goals, 40 assists and 93 penalty minutes in 57 regular-season and playoff games.
He’s from Campbellford, Ontario, located about 6½ hours from BG and about two hours northeast of Toronto.
“You’re preaching every day,” Bergeron said. “You’re preaching being an every-day guy, and you’re going to get rewarded for it. He got rewarded with an opportunity, and he took advantage of the opportunity. Hopefully, that’s a starting point, and he’ll keep getting more and more confident. He was just playing. You get a couple of points, you’re going to be more confident.
“That was more like what Joe is doing in practice. There are mistakes here and there, but this was the first real game he got a chance to play. We can’t expect him to go out there two shifts a period and get the job done, but that’s the deal.
“He was hard on the puck, and he was playing. There was thinking out there, but it didn’t have him so wrapped up in thinking that he couldn’t play. He was playing.”