Connor McGrath knows where he wants to end up as a hockey player.
He wants to play at the Division-I level and, hopefully, if the opportunity arises, play semi-pro or professionally.
However, McGrath, a Beverly resident, knows the road to success is far from easy, but he’s on the right path.
McGrath was drafted by the Youngstown Phantoms on May 5 in the United States Hockey League (USHL) Draft.
“I’ve been playing hockey since I was 3 years old,” McGrath said. “This was awesome. I can’t wait to play at this level. I’ll keep pursuing that dream and get to the next level. For me, playing hockey, it’s just that happy place.”
The USHL is the top junior ice hockey league sanctioned by USA Hockey. The league features 16 teams across the Midwest for players on the junior circuit. Players are allowed to compete at the junior level from their 16-year-old to 21-year-old season.
McGrath was drafted in the 12th round as the 173rd pick overall.
For the 6’, 170-pound center/right wing, the draft was just another step forward.
McGrath, 19, grew up in Beverly, attending Morgan Park Academy. He attended St. Rita for his freshman and sophomore years before transferring to Cranbrook Kingswood, a prep school in Michigan, for his junior and senior years.
Then, McGrath made the jump to the junior level, playing with the Little Caesars 18U AAA hockey club. This winter, he made his biggest jump so far, signing with the Chippewa Steel in the North American Hockey League (NAHL), a Tier II league.
“I was always trying to grow and develop as a player,” McGrath said. “It was definitely an eye-opener. Those first few games, there’s a little shock value. Everybody is a lot faster and stronger. With a few games though, I found that confidence and rhythm and knew what I can do.”
McGrath made the most of his time with Chippewa after signing with the Steel near midseason.
In 26 games, McGrath finished with 18 points (13 goals, 5 assists) before the end of the season was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
USHL teams had been scouting the NAHL all season long with McGrath showing up on the radar of several teams. Then, on May 5, he got the call from the Phantoms.
“I was actually in the middle of a workout and saw my name pop up [in the draft],” McGrath said with a laugh. “Just a huge burst of energy hit me. My brother [Ryan] was taking a nap, and I woke him up. I probably shouldn’t have. You have that ‘This is real’ feeling. This isn’t a dream. I just have to keep working.”
Ryan McGrath, a registered nurse in the intensive care unit at Advocate Christ Medical Center, was a standout player on St. Rita’s 2012 state championship team, and he is a 2013 St. Rita grad.
With ice rinks closed around the state for the rest of May, McGrath continues to work on his own as best as possible.
“My biggest thing is my speed and agility,” McGrath said. “I’m not cocky, but I know I can put up some solid points. I want to use my speed and creativity to help the team and myself score some points. Whatever the team needs, I’ll do what I can to help.”
Johnstown is scheduled to hold a tryout and training camp in late July and early August.
Nothing is guaranteed for McGrath, but he likes his chances.
“All the drafted players, it’s not a sure thing to make the team,” McGrath said. “If you have a bad camp, you might not make it. It will come down to who wants it more and who puts it all out there. I’m going to keep doing what I can do.”