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El Cajon’s McCrea ‘will do anything to win’ for NCAA D-I Cornell

 

Cornell Men's Ice Hockey vs Alabama-Huntsville

It turns out the defensive defenseman isn’t going the way of the dinosaur despite hockey’s fixation on the “offenseman.”

El Cajon’s Alec McCrea provides evidence of that.

The senior assistant captain has helped NCAA Division I Cornell University remain in the rankings after a campaign for the ages in 2017-18.

The Big Red was a big pain to play against, allowing just 1.58 goals per game (the eighth lowest Division I mark ever). That was one reason the 6-foot-3, 202-pound former San Diego Saint and Jr. Gull was selected the ECAC Hockey Best Defensive Defenseman and a Second Team All-Ivy League pick.

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“When I got the award, they must not have been watching my hands during warmups,” the good-natured McCrea quipped. “Seriously, I was humbled to win that award because defense is something I take great pride in.

“For me, it’s never about points. I’m trying to focus on winning first. I play my best when I think defense first.”

That approached helped Cornell to the NCAA Tournament each of the past two seasons, and it’s partly why he was selected to the Big Red’s leadership group this season.

“His first strength is his character,” Cornell coach Mike Schafer said. “He’s a great teammate who always wants to get better, and he has.

“The second is he will do anything to win – block a shot, take a hit to make a play, any of the tough things. He’s a battler.

“He’s also very consistent in the locker room, on the ice, in class and with his teammates.”

The program’s first Californian, McCrea was quick to credit those who’ve gone before him.

“The leadership position is something I take great pride in because the previous years’ leaders did such a good job,” he said. “I’ve never been on teams so close in my life. Every year I don’t think we could get closer, and the next year it’s closer.”

Wearing a letter is nothing new for McCrea. He was a captain for Waterloo in the USHL, helping the Black Hawks to the 2014 Clark Cup final. For all of the gains in his game – Schafer said McCrea’s improved in “every aspect” during his four seasons – one thing that hasn’t changed is his approach.

“It’s not about changing who you are,” he said. “It’s about sticking to what you know because what you’re doing presents you to be in the position you’re in now. I wanted to have a leadership position, but just because I have a letter doesn’t mean I have to change anything about myself.”

Noted for his defensive acumen and leadership, McCrea still knows how to find the opposing net. His first three seasons saw him register 15, 10 and 12 points, respectively. He plays on the power play and he’s scored some huge goals for the Big Red, perhaps none more memorable than his winner against Harvard on Nov. 11, 2017 with 1.4 seconds left.

His skill set has caught the attention of scouts from the Winnipeg Jets and New York Rangers, who’ve invited him to their prospect camps in 2016 and 2017, respectively.

“Both camps allowed me the opportunity to see what organizations expect of their players and what it takes to be at that level,” he said. “It’s apparent throughout their staffs – everyone maintains that culture.”

Where he plays after this season is anyone’s guess, but it’s a good bet he’ll join former Jr. Gulls teammates Taylor Crunk, Thatcher Demko and Tyler Moy in the pros. McCrea relished his teenage years with that group.

“Our ’95 group was so well coached by Larry Cahn, Randy Moy, Brett Mowery, and others,” he said. “They cared about us as players and our development. That made me fall in love with the game and see where it could take me.

“All of us owe a lot to those coaches. They showed us what opportunities were there and that you can stay in California and embrace the opportunities there and still play Division I.”

Photo/Patrick Shanahan/Cornell Athletics

— Chris Bayee

(Jan. 7, 2019)