Nothing has come easy for Kendall McFaull.
That suits him just fine.
Thursday the 20-year-old Moose Jaw Warriors captain was preparing to for the final weekend of his Western Hockey League career when it became official that his season will continue with the Oklahoma City Barons of the American Hockey League.
McFaull has signed with the Edmonton Oilers’ affiliate for the rest of the season and will look to impress and earn an NHL contract or camp invite.
“My whole life has kind of been like that I guess. Being from a small town ... it seemed like every road was a little harder,” said McFaull who hails from Rosetown. He was cut by the Warriors as a 16-year-old and then was one of the few midget AAA players to earn a spot on Team West at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge.
“I came in through the back door to make Under-17s. Same with the Warriors,” said McFaull. “I enjoy it, I guess, to prove people wrong. To have someone say ‘we don’t think he’s for us’ and then keep working and keep working and have that hard work pay off.
“It’s an opportunity for me to earn a chance to get a contract for the next few years.”
McFaull was drafted in the sixth round, 155th overall in the 2010 NHL Draft by Atlanta. When the team moved to Winnipeg — and their front office was overhauled — McFaull ended up out of the Jets’ plans and wasn’t signed. He had surgery to repair a sports hernia this past summer. That and the NHL lockout prevented him from getting a pro look before the start of his 20-year-old season.
“He’s so deserving of an opportunity to keep playing,” said Warriors head coach Mike Stothers.
Edmonton’s pro scout Duane Sutter came to see McFaull a handful of times during the lockout and met with McFaull to get to know him. A few months later and the Oilers decided to give McFaull a chance to impress them.
“It’s going to be weird being the young guy again,” said McFaull whose nickname is ‘dad’ in the Warriors locker room. “Playing with Morgan (Rielly), being a high-calibre prospect, will help me adjust to playing with higher calibre players. I think getting used to the pace will be the big thing.”
McFaull had been applying to schools — he’s looking to study engineering at either Saskatchewan, Toronto or Waterloo — but was happy to jump at the chance to play professionally. This stint with the Barons won’t affect the five years of education funding he has coming from the WHL Scholarship Fund.
“If pro doesn’t work out I can still go back to school. I didn’t have to push one path out of the way,” said McFaull who has been the Warriors’ captain for the past two seasons. He has five goals and a career-high 20 points in 69 games played this season.
The 6-2, 208-pound defenceman is hoping to find a niche as a shutdown defenceman in the Oilers’ system.
When asked what Stothers liked the most about McFaull’s game, he replied: “everything.” Stothers coincided that he isn’t a dynamic skater like a Morgan Rielly and doesn’t have the kind of edge to his game that a Dylan McIlrath has, but he brings an awful lot of positive qualities to the table.
“He just does everything that a captain is supposed to do. He leads by example. He never shirks his responsibility on and off the ice. He applies himself and works as hard as he can,” said Stothers. “He goes about his job without much fanfare or recognition — and I think he prefers it that way. His work ethic is second to none.”
It was those qualities that led to McFaull being named captain a year ago on a star-studded, veteran team. He is rare two-year captain in Warriors history and has been a great fit for the rebuilding team this season.
“There’s been some trying times for everybody. We had an experienced club last year that just needed some gentle nudging occasionally,” said Stothers who noted that going from that to the youngest team in the league was a huge change. “His patience showed through. He was never too busy for any of his teammates. He’s been one of the best captains I’ve ever had.”
McFaull said he learned a lot from Jason Bast and Spencer Edwards when they were his captains.
“I learned little things from Jason Bast and Spencer Edwards to help me become a leader. I hope that what I’ve done this year can help these guys in the future,” said McFaull. “I’ve got to be a father figure and a leader for these guys and that’s a role I strive for. I love that role.”
He credits his parents Kelly and Karen for helping him become the man he is. A farm family that lived in Rosetown, he said his parents were well-respected in the community — though he notes that they would probably balk at that description.
“My parents stressed respect, doing the right thing and doing well in school,” said McFaull. “The way they brought me up definitely helped me become the leader I am today.”
“I have to say that his parents did a hell of a job,” said Stothers. “They raised a good boy.”
As well-spoken and mature as McFaull is off the ice, he has a toughness and a tenacity that serves him well on the ice.
A quintessential McFaull moment came late in his career in the Warriors 5-4 comeback win over Saskatoon that ended their Blades’ 18-game winning streak on March 3. McFaull was injured in a fight and missed the four-goal third period comeback, but returned for overtime — minus some teeth.
“The first punch must have caught me square,” said McFaull. “I could feel a couple of teeth rolling around, so I tried to lean over my shoulder, spit ’em out and keep going.”
In the penalty box teammate Sam Fioretti told McFaull that two of his surviving teeth were looking a little rough and the Warriors captain decided to get the two teeth that were pushed back examined.
“The dentist came down at looked at it and he thought there was a fracture in what holds the teeth together. He thought it was best that I get it stitched and wired straight,” recalled McFaull. “I didn’t really think it needed to be dealt with right then. Had that fracture not been there, I would have gone back out and played.”
McFaull left the arena and got his teeth stitched into his gums to hold them in place. He returned and dressed in time to start overtime on the ice.
“I came back and my lip was fat and I couldn’t really talk, but was I trying to get the guys fired up. I was lisping all over the place and probably drooling,” said McFaull. “It was awesome to come back for that one. I said to the guys after the game: ‘thanks for waiting for me.’”
The end of McFaull’s career won’t wait. He said he knows it’s a cliché and that it’s something the veterans always say on their way out, but your time in the league really does fly by. He’s trying to savour the final moments of his junior career.
“Last year went by really fast for as long as we played,” said McFaull. “This year I was ready for it. I knew it would go by quick and to take it all in and all of a sudden the end of the year is here.
“Even last game getting the first star — and I thought (Justin) Paulic probably deserved it — but going out there and having the fans cheering. I’m not really one to get emotional, but I was trying to take it all in. I was definitely getting those goose bumps.”
He credited his talented teammates for helping him get drafted and making his a better player. After being selected by Atlanta he said his goal has always been to take that next step. It took longer than he hoped, but now that he has a shot in the minors he feels maybe the extra year in the WHL served him well. He said he enjoyed every minute of his time in Moose Jaw.
“Being from a small town, I’ve always enjoyed the community aspect of playing in Moose Jaw,” said McFaull. “In Rosetown the rink is the hub of everything during the winter. It seems to be the same thing here. You go out in the community and people support you through thick and thin.
“This organization has helped me improve on the ice, but it’s also helped me off the ice. I’ve had a blast off the ice with (community charity programs) like Captain’s Care. People always say it’s great that we go out do stuff in the community, but we love it too. It makes us feel more a part of Moose Jaw. It makes it feel like it’s not just some place you play hockey, but it is a home. It means a lot to me to have the community embrace you.”