The decision Jamie McBain made may not have been an easy one, but it certainly wasn’t a surprising one, either.
McBain, a junior defenseman on the University of Wisconsin men’s hockey team, announced Thursday he will forgo his senior season and turn pro, joining the Carolina Hurricanes’ minor league affiliate — the Albany River Rats of the American Hockey League — for the final 10 games of the season.
“It was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make,” McBain said in a phone interview. “I loved it there. I loved everything about it. I loved the coaching staff and the guys who were always around.”
While the choice was a tough one, it was simply the right time for McBain, a second-round pick of the Hurricanes. The junior led the Badgers in scoring with 37 points on the season and played in all 40 games. In the process, he was named the WCHA’s Player of the Year and is a top 10 finalist for the Hobey Baker Award.
“As far as from a hockey perspective, it was just time to move on in that aspect,” McBain said. “It all worked out for this being the best decision for me and my hockey career to move on.”
McBain was in a similar position just a season ago, as speculation arose he may leave after just his sophomore year. But he announced his decision to return, which seemed to benefit both him and the Badgers.
When the end of the season rolled around this time, the speculation arose again. No one was surprised, though, when McBain decided to go pro.
“It’s a little bit different as far as the year I had,” McBain said.
“It terms of Jamie signing, we knew from the beginning of the season that it might be a possibility,” UW head coach Mike Eaves said. “Then that possibility got stronger based on his performance this year.”
With McBain’s departure, Eaves’ squad will be losing not only its top scorer but also one of its assistant captains. While McBain remains soft-spoken off the ice, Eaves said the junior showed leadership on the bench and on the rink.
“I think his strong suit was on the bench,” Eaves said. “As quiet as he is, he’s really a competitive kid on the inside. In the middle of a battle on the bench, he was one of the guys that … was … leaning down to the forwards, ‘Hey, we need to get this done.’”
McBain’s contract, according to the Hurricanes’ team site, is a three-year deal that will pay $600,000 a season at the NHL level and $62,500 on the minor league level. McBain will also collect a $255,000 signing bonus.
“He got the max that he could get as an entry-level athlete,” Eaves said of McBain’s contract. “As a second-rounder, that’s pretty nice.”
So, what’s the 21-year-old McBain going to do with his newfound riches?
“I’ll probably just put it in the bank and save it for a rainy day,” McBain said.
Before he can collect the NHL money, however, McBain will play for the River Rats in their final 10 games this season and likely for part of next season as well.
“Carolina was really honest with him,” Eaves said. “They didn’t sell him the moon. They told him exactly that he’s going to play 10 games in Albany right now.”
As for McBain’s expectations of his first taste of the big leagues?
“Just kind of get a feel for the pace, the atmosphere at the professional level and just kind of get the feel for the game and get associated with the guys I could be around next year in the organization,” McBain said.
After his time in Albany, McBain will return to Madison to finish out the semester — something his coach sees as an added bonus.
“If you’re looking at moments for young athletes to take that next step in today’s age, there’s the fact that he’s got three years of education under his belt,” Eaves said.
Once school finishes, it will be back to work for the WCHA Player of the Year, as he’ll split time between his home in Minnesota, the UW campus and Carolina for offseason training. But as he leaves his Badger career behind, he’ll always have memories of his time at Wisconsin.
“Just being around the guys in the locker room, just that close-knit bond you get with all the guys on your team, especially the guys in my [junior] class. You’ve grown up with them the last three years,” McBain said. “Definitely an experience I’ll never forget.”