MANKATO — With a save percentage of .931 and goals-against average of 1.66 over over a season and a quarter, Dryden McKay has frustrated plenty of opposing teams and players.
Add a few of his Minnesota State men’s hockey teammates to that list, too.
“He’s battling every drill, making his saves,” junior forward Reggie Lutz said. “When you do get one by him, you let him hear it because it doesn’t happen that often, to be honest. It’s always nice to get one by him in practice.”
There’s been no sophomore slump for McKay, who was College Hockey News’ national rookie of the year and the WCHA’s All-Rookie Team goaltender after a 24-win freshman season.
Starting nine of the Mavericks’ 10 games this season, McKay is 7-1-1 with a .946 save percentage and a 1.32 goals-against average. Two weeks ago, stopped 48 of 49 shots in WCHA series sweep at Michigan Tech. That included a 31-save shutout in the series opener, his second clean sheet of the season and sixth in 43 career games.
“I don’t want to say I’m more comfortable, but I’m more confident, I’d say,” McKay said this week with the No. 1-ranked Mavericks preparing for a home series against Alaska Anchorage. “I’m more used to the type of play, and I know what to expect a little bit more.”
McKay is also in better shape than he was a year ago, something he and coach Mike Hastings have touched on several times this season.
While it might have been easy for McKay to rest on last year’s laurels and coast into his second season, he committed to training and nutrition, working closely with strength and conditioning coach Tom Inkrott.
“I think nutrition has probably been the biggest change,” McKay said. “College workouts are a lot different than anything I’ve done in the past, physically. The biggest thing is learning what to eat for my body specifically. There were foods I was eating before that I thought were good for me but they weren’t, and there were foods that I thought were bad that were good. So I think just becoming more knowledgeable. Our strength guy Tommy has helped a lot with that.”
McKay said it was difficult to cut out carbs like bread and bagels in the offseason — “The easy stuff to make, like PB&Js. I had to cut back on those, too.” — but learned to add rice, vegetables and more protein — for muscle gain and recovery — to his diet.
“I’m in the best shape that I’ve been in,” he said.
McKay said he dropped his weight from 185 to 176 pounds and lowered his body fat significantly.
“I think he was just a lot more prepared (coming into this season),” Hastings said, “and when you do that, you gain in confidence because you know you’ve put the work in. So I believe that’s one of the reasons that he’s gotten off to such a good start.”
McKay also has more of a daily routine now, somewhat mimicking what Mathias Israelsson did last year. Israelsson spent one season with the Mavericks as a graduate transfer from Northern Michigan. He played in just 10 games, but, Hastings said, always “prepared like a pro.”
“I learned a ton from that,” McKay said. “I used to be one of those guys who would show up to the rink and just kind of sit around until practice, and (Israelsson) was always stretching and doing whatever he needed to do. I saw that, and Coach even pointed it out to me. Now I have my own routine that I do before practice, and I feel like I’ve been more consistent in practice since I started doing that type of stuff.”
Israelsson is now playing professionally in his home country of Sweden.
McKay currently ranks second in the nation in goals-against average and fourth in save percentage. He’s tops in the WCHA in both categories. Minnesota State enters the weekend with the No. 1 defense in the nation, allowing 1.30 goals per game.
Follow Shane Frederick on Twitter @puckato