‘Not too excitable’ McKay leading national powerhouse Minnesota State from between the pipes with video game-like numbers

Minnesota State goaltender Dryden McKay is 21-2-1 this season with a 1.25 GAA, a .946 save percentage and seven shutouts (photo: Minnesota State Athletics).

A goaltender named after one of the all-time greats was always going to have a lot of pressure piled upon him.

But maybe that’s why Dryden McKay is, as his Minnesota State coach Mike Hastings described him, “not too excitable.”

The sophomore from Downers Grove, Ill., is leading the nation in every goaltending category (GAA, save percentage, shutouts) and is a Hobey Baker front-runner. He’s a big reason why the third-ranked Mavericks are 22-3-1 and have the nation’s best scoring defense.

And perhaps his best quality, in the eyes of Hastings, is his cool demeanor.

“When the fur starts flying, and it gets a little crazy, there’s not a real uptick on his heart rate monitor,” Hastings said. “He kind of goes about his business and he’s a pretty mentally stable goaltender.”

“And I don’t know if i can tell you that all of our guys have been that,” he joked.

McKay, whose father Ross McKay was a former pro who played in a single NHL game for the Hartford Whalers in 1991, credits his him with his level-headedness.

“My dad is a very calm guy, and he was a goalie, and the big thing for him was to make me aware of how a goalie effects a team in the net,” McKay said. “If he’s all frazzled and all over the place, that kind of makes the team panic a little bit, but if the goalie looks calm and under control, even if he’s not, that has a calming effect on the team and is usually positive.”

McKay came to Mankato last season as a freshman and battled veteran goalie Mathias Israelsson, a graduate transfer from Northern Michigan, for playing time. He finally locked down the starting role in late November after sitting seven consecutive games on the bench.

“He came in as a freshman and thought he was in shape, but Matthies Isrealson showed him what it means to prepare for a practice, to recover after a practice and to prepare for the next day,” Hastings said. “So we benefited from Mathias being here and showing him how important it is not to just show up at the rink, put the gear on and try and be successful.”

McKay said Isrealson taught him about how to take care of himself off the ice. On the ice, he was able to teach him about handling the puck better. Both things have showed in his game this season.

“He’s probably one of the hardest working and most prepared players — not just goalies — I’ve ever seen or played with,” McKay said of Isrealson. “Just to see how hard he worked and how he treated his body, how he prepared every day, he was pretty consistent in practice.

“On the ice, he was a really good goalie. I learned some stuff from him, especially about playing the puck, that he was really good at.”

Last season, McKay went 24-7-2 with a 1.76 GAA and a .927 save percentage after taking the starting job in November. This season, he has started all but one game for the Mavericks and has a 21-2-1 record with a 1.25 GAA and .946 save percentage. He also leads the nation with seven shutouts.

“You never really know about a person or player, a student-athlete, until you get to spend significant time with him,” Hastings said. “The thing I’ve appreciated most about Dryden — other than him stopping a puck 95 percent of the time — is just his approach and his pursuit of getting better.”

McKay said MSU goalie coach Brendan Poderzay has been a big influence on how his game has evolved and gotten better in his sophomore season.

“I’ve worked with our goalie coach Brendan Poderzay and I’m trying to stay in between the posts and giving myself a chance on every puck, especially with rebounds, tips and screens and stuff like that,” he said.

McKay and the Mavericks will have a tough task ahead of them this weekend with instate rivals Bemidji State visiting Mankato. The Beavers are in second place in the standings and quietly have one of the best scoring offenses in the country (3.21 goals per game).

“Any time you play a really good team like Bemidji it’s exciting, to kind of show our stuff against the second-best team in our conference right now,” McKay said. “These are big games, games you want to play in, especially as we start to get later in the year. And it has huge implications on the playoff picture.

“We’re excited.”

Beavers extend unbeaten streak

Speaking of the Mavericks’ rivals to the north, Bemidji State extended their unbeaten streak to six with a five-point weekend against Michigan Tech.

The Beavers maintained their grip on second place in the WCHA standings — they are eight points ahead and have two games in hand on third place Alaska — and set up a juicy No. 1 vs. No.1 matchup this weekend in Mankato. Minnesota State has a six-point lead on the Beavers.

The Beavers beat the Huskies 4-1 on Friday before the two skated to a 1-1 tie on Saturday, but Bemidji State’s Adam Brady scored the decisive goal in 3-on-3 overtime to give BSU the extra point.

“I personally think they are the best team in the country,” BSU head coach Tom Serratore told the Bemidji Pioneer. “They’re a heck of a team and they’re tough. They’re tough to beat, especially in that building, so what a challenge for us.”

The series will feature the top two goaltenders in the WCHA in McKay and Bemidji’s Zach Driscoll. Driscoll, a junior, has the second-best GAA (1.68) and save percentage (.931) in the conference.

“Those two guys are going to be central figures on the weekend,” Hastings said of the goalie matchup. “Driscoll’s put together an outstanding season and so has Dryden. Both are really good about not giving up goals they shouldn’t. It sets up for a really exciting weekend of hockey.”

Five points for Seawolves

Alaska Anchorage snapped a three-game losing streak with a crucial five-point weekend against struggling Alabama Huntsville. The Seawolves won 5-1 on Friday followed by a 2-2 tie and 3-on-3 overtime win.

Alex Frye scored twice on Friday night then added the game-tying goal on Saturday to help UAA, who moved into a playoff position in eighth — past Ferris State, who was swept by Alaska over the weekend.

The sweep also meant that the Seawolves, who are now 4-14-4 overall, have already surpassed their 2018-19 win total (they finished 3-28-3 last season).

Meanwhile, the Chargers are 1-19-4 overall and just 1-13-4 in the WCHA and have eight points on the season, putting them in last place.