A pro’s journey to the Hall
There are many great hockey players native to Glengarry, but those whose talents have earned them a spot on a NHL, AHL, OHL, Canadian Junior and European Elite team rosters are deserving of special recognition. Such is the hockey journey of Williamstown’s Kent McDonell who will be inducted into the Glengarry Sports Hall of Fame next month.
Kent, born in 1979, is one of six children of Bruce and Linda McDonell. Notably, he is the great grandson of Dr. Alexander Tupper McDonell, an inductee into the Hall of Fame in 1983 who was recognized for his football and lacrosse achievements. Kent was another Williamstown resident who grew up on the banks of the Raisin River and learned to skate on it in the winter and fish on it in the summer. Kent played as many sports as possible within the Char-Lan sports community but hockey quickly emerged as his passion. With three older brothers in Char-Lan minor hockey, there were always a pair of hand-me-down skates available. Kent was an enthusiastic member of the Char-Lan Minor Hockey Association from novice through to bantam minor. During these minor hockey years, his father was a volunteer coach with the association and enjoyed the unique opportunity to coach his son. Bruce is quick to share that hockey matters remained at the rink and were not brought home for further discussion. Kent’s father recalls that his son was very much a respectful competitor who would hold back his game if the CharLan team was ahead by a number of goals but if the team was losing, “then look out because Kent turned on the jets!” Not unlike many youngsters in the Char-Lan community, Kent set his goal to one day play for the Jr. B Rebels. As a young fan during the winter months he never missed a Rebels’ game. His father recalls that Kent would participate in the different hockey skill competitions that the Rebels’ offered during game intermissions. The winner of these competitions would receive a free hockey stick and Kent never missed an opportunity to go on the ice and try his luck. As luck, or more likely skill, had it, Kent reputedly won enough sticks to keep him playing the game for a few years. Such a fan was Kent that he made a point to high-five the players as they came off the ice. How ironic that a few years later, hockey fans would be lining up to give Kent a high-five when he exited the ice after one of his games as a professional player.
Playing through the levels of Char-Lan minor hockey, Kent remembers the away tournaments and always felt a great sense of pride and satisfaction when his hockey team made up of small town and farm kids entered the big city and state-side tournaments and came home victors. Kent credits much of his early success because he played alongside many good hockey players from the Williamstown area.
Kent joined the Junior B Rebels at just 15 years of age playing the 199394 season. The following year, instead of following up on the opportunity to report to the Hawkesbury Hawks training camp, Al Wagar coach of the Cornwall Colts, picked him up to play in their 1995-96 season. That season Kent playing the right-wing position collected 33 points in 35 games. The Cornwall Colts advanced to the Fred Page Cup final, losing in the final game to Dartmouth.
Kent is a local example of a young man who left home at an early age to pursue his chances of a pro hockey career. There were university hockey scholarships offered to Kent, however he chose to enter the Junior A draft and went in the 2nd round to Guelph Storm in 1996. Kent was just 17 years old when he left home to be billeted in Guelph and complete his high school there while playing with the Storm. In his second year playing with the Storm, the team advanced to the Memorial Cup only to lose in the final game to Portland in overtime. Kent experienced great success while playing in Guelph. He captained the team in 1999. That same year he was named the team MVP and selected to the OHL First Team All-star roster. Including playoffs, Kent played 287 games and accumulated 227 points that speaks to his stellar play while in the OHL. Without a doubt, Kent’s proudest hockey moment occurred when he was selected to represent Canada at the World U20 Juniors in 1999. The try-out camp was held in Kenora. Canada hosted the World Juniors’ tournament in Winnipeg and Tom Renney served as Canadian coach. Kent finished with a plus 2 rating, including a goal and an assist in his 7 games played. The team advanced to the finals losing in a heartbreaking loss to Russia in overtime. To this day, Kent feels tremendous pride and says that there are no words to accurately describe his emotions and experiences when he played wearing the maple leaf on his jersey.
Kent was drafted by the Carolina Hurricanes in 1997 and returned to the draft again in 1999, this time drafted by the Detroit Red Wings. He signed his first professional contract in 2000. He made short stops playing in the East Coast League before he signed with the Columbus Blue Jackets and played with their affiliate in the American Hockey League in Syracuse. He was called up to play with the Columbus Blue Jackets and tallied 3 points in 32 games. 2004-05 was the infamous NHL lockout year and Kent made the difficult decision to leave and play in Europe. Here began an illustrious ten-year journey playing on division 1 teams in Norway, Germany and Finland, but the majority of these fulfilling years were spent playing in the Swedish Hockey League.
Kent retired from professional hockey in 2017 and he returned from Europe to establish his home in Caledon Hills with his wife Julie and daughter Logan. Along with other business interests, Kent runs Prospect Hockey, a hockey school where he focuses on developing the aspects of the game that served him well during his years of play, specifically the importance of strong communication, team effort and individual work ethic. When asked what Kent thought characterized his style of play, he reflected that he was always recognized for his strong work ethic and leadership on and off the ice. In all the years that he played hockey, he almost always was selected to wear a letter on his jersey.
Although the distances Kent travelled to play hockey were great, he always remained closely connected to his parents and he would call home after every game played. Kent gives back to his Williamstown community when he is able. His Team Canada picture hangs in the Char-Lan Recreation Centre and serves as an inspiration to young players. On occasion, he has worn his Team Canada jersey and skated with local minor hockey players and he has visited his sister Carrie’s school in Cornwall to speak with students. Kent still calls the banks of the Raisin River and Williamstown home and returns frequently to visit family and friends. For certain, Kent will be returning to Williamstown on August 21 to be deservedly inducted into the Glengarry Sports Hall of Fame.