October 12, 2013 PRINT Bookmark and Share

Back in Boston

Alabama-Huntsville's McKenna at Home on the Road

by Joe Meloni/Senior Writer

BOSTON — Stephen McKenna sat in different well-known rinks as a kid. He watched the Bruins sometimes. He'd go home those nights, to the rink the next day and think about that ice. Skating on it, becoming more than just another kid from South Boston that played hockey.

Other times, he'd see Northeastern, Boston College, Boston University or Harvard play. The same thing followed the next time he got on the ice, becoming the next great college hockey player from Southie to star for one of Bostons' storied programs.

With dreams like these, McKenna followed the route players do to make them realities. He played for junior hockey teams around New England. Even as he morphed from another kid racing around the rink to a 6-foot-3 nearly 200-pound man, the dreams stayed in the back of his head.

Friday night, and against on Saturday, McKenna skated onto the ice at Matthews Arena, home of Northeastern. In many ways, his dream came true in these two games. Reality played out a little different than he pictured, though.

"No, I didn't. I never thought it'd be (Alabama-Huntsville)," McKenna said when asked if he ever considered UAH.

"It was nice that in my first weekend of college hockey I got to come home. ... First night was tough, we had 11 guys on the ice that it was their first ever college hockey game. There's no excuses, but, at the same time, we all had jitters out there. (Saturday night) we proved to the hockey world that we can play hockey. We're here to compete.

Stephen McKenna's first year as a forward for Alabama-Huntsville began on Friday night. His first two games ended in the losses most expected from the Chargers. Even with their admission to the new-look WCHA, they're still behind most schools from college hockey's best leagues in terms of recruiting talent.

There's a plan in place, though, and a clear vision that attracted the kid from South Boston to the small city about 2,000 miles away from the rinks he grew up in.

"Right when I committed here, I knew our first game was against Northeastern," he said. "I checked it off. I was ready to come here. It was good to have the support. We couldn't get a win, but we're going to learn from our mistakes and move on."

Commiting to UAH means accepting a lot. Bus rides across the country and the occasional lop-sided loss. There isn't much McKenna can do about the former, but he can make the Chargers a better team. He's determined to so do as well.

Coming from Boston, a city with a hockey tradition like few others in the U.S., means McKenna understands the role those before him played. UAH's history of success and a pair of Division II national championships before the NCAA stopped sponsoring the division. Since, NCAA Tournament appearances have been as common as rumors of the program's demise.

Confident in its stability, McKenna sees his future in Huntsville as a successful one.

"I'm happy where I am," McKenna said. "We're going to surprise some people. Believe me."

Guilty of a hand pass early in the third period on Saturday night, Stephen McKenna drifted back to his bench. He didn't look up this time, like he had so often over the weekend. Stationed just behind the Alabama-Huntsville bench were a few dozen Bostonians clad in Charger blue and white to support McKenna and his teammates.

When McKenna committed to UAH last year, he accepted the idea of spending the next four years of his life far away from home. For one weekend, though, his first in college hockey, Stephen McKenna's dream of playing college hockey in Boston with the crowd cheering his every move was a reality.

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