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November 20, 2012

"Big John" McLean will be sidelined for awhile

You have to feel a little bit for John McLean.

The Gustavus Adolphus men’s hockey team’s sophomore goaltender suffered what appeared to be a freak injury on Friday night, apparently breaking his ankle when he pushed off on his skate to swat away a loose puck with his stick.

There was no contact on the play, which came with about three minutes remaining in the first period against St. Thomas, and McLean had to be helped out of the rink, as he was unable to put any weight on the injured right leg.

Between periods, I took a walk around Lund Center and was surprised to see a couple of National Hockey League scouts, as well as a Twin Cities-based agent in the building.

I recognized the scouts from seeing them at various Minnesota State games at the Verizon Wireless Center. That arena was crawling with them two weekends ago when the Mavericks hosted Denver. But you don’t see too many of them at the Don Roberts Ice Rink to watch Division III games.

They were there to see the unique specimen who is McLean, who, at 6 feet, 8 inches, may be the tallest goaltender in organized hockey.

I wrote about McLean last year, when he was a freshman and backstopping a red-hot Gusties team through the MIAC playoffs.

In high school he grew from 5-10 to 6-4, he said, and kept shooting up from there as he played junior hockey in Wisconsin.

Last season, he wasn’t just a big man on campus, he was perhaps the biggest man on campus, at least the tallest athlete at Gustavus. This year there is one men’s basketball player listed at 6-9.

Gustavus loves to tout McLean’s size. During pregame introductions, the rink announcer makes sure to enunciate “6-foot-8” before calling him out as “Big John” McLean.

Of course, a team can only get away with that if that player is good, and McLean is.

He’s athletic, moving well for his size, and he has impressive statistics. Through Friday, he has a 16-7-2 college record with a .924 save percentage and a 2.12 goals-against average.

It probably was only a matter of time that scouts would start driving to St. Peter to see “Big John” for themselves.

Unfortunately, they saw only 17 minutes and seven saves (on seven shots).

Injuries are part of the game, of course, and the good news for the Gusties is they appear to have two very capable goalies, Tyler Venne and Patrick Sullivan to fill the void.

As for McLean, he’ll heal, and, eventually, he’ll be back.

Hopefully, the scouts will return, too.

Shane Frederick is a Free Press staff writer. Read his blog at mankatofreepresshockey.blogspot.com, and follow him on Twitter @puckato.

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