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Jake McGrew has had one of the most unorthodox paths to professional hockey.
The Southern California native was homeschooled from the third grade on, allowing him to focus more time on hockey.
However, the best-laid plans went awry during McGrew’s draft year in 2016, which he sat out because of a right knee injury. He used his time wisely though, winning Humanitarian of the Year for the WHL’s Spokane Chiefs, largely due to the time he spent visiting local schools.
The San Jose Sharks took a chance on McGrew, calling his name in the sixth round of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft.
As a kid from Orange County, he never really thought about pulling on the teal sweater one day until it happened.
“I think a year or two before I got drafted, I was playing nationals here and it didn’t really go through my mind,” he recalled. “For a California kid, to be drafted by San Jose, it was pretty special. I remember that day pretty vividly and it was pretty surreal.”
Things were looking up for McGrew, as he raised his goal totals from 19 in his first playing season in Spokane to 31 in 2018-19.
Early into his fourth and final season in the juniors though, five goals in six games, McGrew’s right knee turned on him again.
Once again, however, McGrew used his time off wisely, spending his time around the coaching staff on and off the ice. Seeing things from a different perspective allowed him to approach the sport differently when he returned to play, specifically giving him a desire to be more coachable.
While his time with the coaches didn’t quite give him the desire to stay behind the bench anytime soon, he doesn’t plan on leaving the sport when the time comes.
“I think I would want to start more along the lines of maybe player development or skills coach or something in that realm. You see how much work goes into being a coach,” McGrew said. “It’s just as much work as playing, if not more, with preparation and all, but I want to stay in hockey after hockey.”
Still a young guy in this sport, the 22-year-old has plenty of time to decide his next adventure in hockey, but his experiences serve as a reminder not to take anything for granted.
After all, it’s not everyday that a pro hockey player has had three knee surgeries — 2016, a clean-up procedure in 2017, and 2019 — before turning pro.
“Hockey can be taken away from you just like that and we’re very fortunate to play the game that we do for a living, no matter if it’s a good day or a bad day,” McGrew mused. “It was taken away from me for two years and it shows that no matter what, life moves on and keeps going and you just have to kind of enjoy every moment.”
His own trials and tribulations, along with his experience with the Spokane coaching staff, has also made it easier for McGrew to not take what coaches say personally because it’s a business, and he is expected to do a job.
“He’s adding some offense to that third line. We weren’t getting any scoring out of it before, but he’s been a big part of that for them,” San Jose Barracuda head coach Roy Sommer said. “He’s playing 14 or 15 minutes for us a night. He’s getting more ice and he’s doing something with it.”
Sommer recognized that McGrew has shown improvement just about everywhere, specifically, “More awareness in the d-zone where he’s supposed to go and he’s making plays on the wall. Offensively, he’s making pretty good decisions when he gets the puck. He’s trying to hold onto it and make plays now and that’s just getting used to the league.”
The one thing Sommer wants to see more of from Jake McGrew? “More goals.”
The forward uses his past as fuel for improving every day, focusing on his mindset.
“Coming to the rink every day and, and wanting to get better because you have to or else you’re going to get left behind,” McGrew said. “The way I think about it is there’s someone on Spokane that could be taking my job at one point, and I don’t want to let that happen.”
“There’s not too many openly Christian hockey players”
The summer of 2021 saw McGrew take Instagram and discuss his mental and physical story. In the post, he shared a bit more than what you see from most professional athletes because he wanted to use his platform for good.
“People only show what they want on social media. I think a lot of the stuff that goes on behind the scenes is a lot deeper,” he explained as to why he decided to share. “I also wanted to be a bit more open about my Christianity and my beliefs. There’s not too many openly Christian hockey players. There’s a few, but they are really not in the majority. I think that was important, just to be true to who you are. When you’re being true to who you are, then you’re a lot happier in life and everything else will figure itself out.”
A Goal with Meaning
On Jan. 23, Jake McGrew scored the game’s opening goal for the Barracuda, and it meant just a bit more to him than it would in a typical game. It was the Barracuda’s Hockey Fights Cancer game, and the San Jose forward came into the game remembering storied LA Junior Kings coach Jack Bowkus, who McGrew played for.
Bowkus sadly lost his three-year battle with stomach cancer in March of 2020. McGrew lost someone who helped shape both his career in hockey and had a hand in building him into the person he is today.
“Probably four days before that game, I texted my best friend’s dad and I was like, man I’m really missing Jack a lot and I’m having a hard time. If he was still here right now, I’d go to him for a lot of advice and that kind of stuff because I knew the type of person he was in my life,” McGrew said. “When I saw those jerseys, I immediately thought of him. I took pictures of the helmet and the jersey and I kind of just looked at it for a second and knew that that night was going to be for Jack, and it was.”
After his goal, he had a moment to reflect on it all.
“It was definitely special. It was emotional. On the bench I just kind of closed my eyes and thought about him and thought about how I hope that every day I’m making him proud of the type of man and the type of player that I’ve become.”
Some Hot Takes with Jake
“Pickleball might be my second favorite sport. My mom got me onto it last summer and she’s really into it. I’m planning to play twice or three times a week this summer.”
However, don’t expect him to be getting the rest of the team into playing any time soon.
“It’s hard to play pickleball during the season. It’s like playing a whole other game. No joke, I played one time this summer with 65-year-old men, and at one point, I was like, how am I a professional athlete? I was dying. I was dead.”
Okay, so who has the go-to locker room music in the Barracuda locker room?
“I mean, I’d like to think I have a pretty good playlist but probably Cheech [Nick Cicek]. He’s got a good playlist. It’s so good. You’ll have talk to him about that one.”
The one thing he doesn’t want to hear before a game? Country. Specifically because McGrew needs something that pumps him up. McGrew’s playlists have a mixture of old school rap and new school rap and then EDM or “something like that.” He wants to keep a good variety.
More on former Portland Winterhawks star Nick Cicek, currently signed to an AHL contract, who’s emerged as a go-to Barracuda defenseman with Ryan Merkley, Jaycob Megna, and others up with the San Jose Sharks.
“Cheech is going to sign an NHL contract by this summer.”
You read it here first from Jake McGrew, possible future NHL GM.
Barracuda Still Working to Find Their Groove
Over eight games from Jan. 12-27, the Barracuda had a 2-6 record, 14-20-1 overall.
Starting against the Tucson Roadrunners on Jan. 12, Zach Gallant, Artemi Kniazev, and Scott Reedy found the back of the net in a 4-3 loss. It was top San Jose Sharks prospect Kniazev’s first AHL goal.
This was also the Krystof Hrabik-Boko Imama game:
Jan. 14 saw the team turn it around to beat Tucson in a 3-0 shutout from Sam Harvey. Evan Weinger, Reedy, and John Leonard (shorthanded) scored the goals en route to victory.
— San Jose Barracuda (@sjbarracuda) January 15, 2022
The team then suffered three straight losses, starting on Jan. 15 against the Bakersfield Condors (5-1 final), in a game that saw Steenn Pasichnuk score the lone goal for the Barracuda.
Next were San Diego Gulls (4-2 final) on Jan. 18, with McGrew and Joachim Blichfeld finding themselves on the scoresheet with a goal apiece in the loss.
Seeing the Condors once again (4-3 final) on Jan. 22, Leonard scored twice as Blichfeld netted one in a game that started in San Jose’s favor. Carrying a 2-1 lead into the third period, things looked promising, but things began to break down in the final period, with Bakersfield scoring three straight to turn the game around.
However, the next day, the Barracuda walked away with a decisive 5-2 win over the Condors in Zach Sawchenko’s short return to the AHL. McGrew, Reedy, Timur Ibragimov, Blichfeld, and Leonard each contributed goals, with Ibragimov’s being his first in the AHL.
— San Jose Barracuda (@sjbarracuda) January 24, 2022
Three days later, on Jan. 26, they dropped a hard-fought Wednesday morning tilt at home against the Ontario Reign (4-1 final). Patrick Holway scored San Jose’s only goal of the day.
Right back at it Jan. 27, the Barracuda struggled against the Reign once more, falling 7-1. Scott Reedy did what he’s been doing best and claimed the single tally for San Jose. Reedy is the team’s leading scorer.
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