It’s easy to see why NHL scouts would be intrigued by the 18-year-old Jake McCabe.
He has good size at six-foot-one, 201-pounds, excellent vision and hockey sense that enables him to make good crisp passes and consistent smart plays with the puck. McCabe also defends extremely well and enjoys getting physically engaged, has a canon-like shot, can stick handle in a phone booth, and has become as absolute anchor on the Badgers back end. He has quietly become so composed on the ice lately, and it seems to carry over and have a calming effect on his teammates.
The freshman was recently named WCHA Rookie of the Week after he scored two game winners the first week in January. Currently, the talented McCabe has potted three goals and six points in 16 games, and those stats are only going to improve as he continues to make the transition from junior hockey to the NCAA ranks. He is getting better each and every night, as his confidence continues to grow and he realizes just how good he can be.
I had the opportunity to catch up with the talented defenseman, for a quick Q and A.
I know your older brother Andrew is a the captain at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, how has he helped you in hockey, and who else has been an influence in developing your game thus far?
Jake: I always tell people my brother has been my role model growing up. Not only in hockey but as a person as well. He was a great older brother, always pushing me to be better and messing around on our rink in our backyard in the winter with me. He’d come to my games and would always tell me what I did wrong or right and I always listened to what he had to say. My dad is the same way. Everything I said above goes for my Dad. Also, my mom and sister have been both our biggest fans and have endless support.
You are a highly regarded blueliner, that can play at both ends of the ice, what do you see being your best attributes as a player?
Jake: I feel like I have the ability to shut down opponents top lines as well as being a PP guy and contributing offensively. I think some of my strengths are poise and my level of competitiveness.
Is there an NHLer you mold your game after?
Jake: Ryan Suter is one of the best two way defenseman in the game today. He also took a similar route as I did with being a Badger and NTDP alum. Whenever I watch him I’m always trying to pick up on things.
What was your ‘welcome moment’ to the NCAA?
Jake: Well I’d say my first shift. It was at home and I started. The Kohl Center’s atmosphere is one of the best in the country. So I was basically shaking just hoping the puck wouldn’t come to me off the opening draw. Sure enough it did and it was dumped in. As I went back to get the puck, I fell into the boards and through a pass of the back of the net to my D partner. Lucky enough it found him but I’d say that was a wake up call for me.
You were part of US squads that won a gold at both the World U17 Hockey Challenge, and at the U18 World Junior Championships. Where do those rank on your career highlights, and which one was the bigger thrill?
Jake: The U-18’s was unbelievable. The rink we were in was sold out for the championship game and the atmosphere had a soccer feel to it with drums and chanting. Beating Sweden in OT was by far the greatest thrill and accomplishment I’ve had in my career thus far. We sacrificed so much for two years and there is no better way to end my NTDP career.
You’ve put up a few goals with Wisconsin this season, and you popped in a couple with the USNTDP last season, do you have one that stands out as your biggest?
Jake: I wouldn’t say one stands out. My first two goals with Wisconsin happened to be game winners which was pretty neat.
With 2012 being your NHL draft year, have you felt any added pressure to perform this season?
Jake: Not really, I go out there and play my game. I’m out there to put our team in the best position as possible going into playoffs. The way I play is the what I’d like to get noticed for, solid defensively and contributing offensively. I’m not going to try and be a player I’m not.
I know being selected is a huge honour, but if you could pick the team that selects you in the draft, who would you choose?
Jake: Exactly what you said, being selected would be a huge honor so to be honest whatever team to be selected too would be awesome. Minnesota would be pretty special because that’s the closest to home, and I had season tickets to their games a couple of years.
What is the first thing you’d buy after signing your first pro contract?
Jake: Well, that’s the last thing on my mind. Honestly have no idea, I’m just going step by step.
In your opinion, who was the hardest player you’ve ever had to defend against?
Jake: I’m going to have to go with my teammate in Ann Arbor, Rocco Grimaldi. Played him everyday in practice, one of the quickest players I’ve ever played against, so shifty down low and explosive, he’s tough to contain.
Any hidden talents?
Jake: I enjoy guitar, my roommates say I’m pretty good, but that’s probably because they just don’t know how to play.
Most embarrassing hockey moment?
Jake: It’s a tossup with my first shift this year or my freshman year in high school. I was skating back to get a puck, lost an edge and it ended up in the back of my net. It was the game to go to state so the place was packed. It was on the news that night and a couple of old coaches always make sure I remember that play.