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All-Delco Hockey: Mature McCanney grew into the Player of Year

MARPLE >> After Cardinal O’Hara defeated Father Judge, 3-2, in overtime to win the PCL championship, Crusaders coach William Connors gave Liam McCanney, who had scored the winning goal, one of those compliments reserved for the top performers in scholastic athletics. He congratulated McCanney on a great career.

“He said, ‘I’m glad you’re gone now so we don’t have to worry about you next year,’” recalled
McCanney.

The growth of Cardinal O’Hara’s Liam McCanney in the offseason helped the senior develop into a leader for the Lions and the 2018 Daily Times Player of the Year. (Digital First Media/Pete Bannan)

That’s a sentiment shared by hockey teams all over the greater Philadelphia area. Every night McCanney stepped on the ice, he was among the fastest skaters. He also packed the hardest wrist shot and possessed enough finesse to turn defensemen and goaltenders inside out. And at a stout 5-10, 180 pounds — so stout, in fact, that he ripped both of his No. 91 Lions sweaters down the sides so they’d fit better — he eagerly threw his weight around. It was all in the name of victory.

“Whenever I put the helmet on and the jersey on, I always have fire under my skates,” McCanney said. “I always want to win. No one’s beating me. That’s who I am.”

That competitiveness fueled O’Hara to a second consecutive PCL crown and the program’s first appearance in the Flyers Cup AAA semifinals since 2012. McCanney was brilliant in the postseason run.

He had a goal and an assist as the Lions upset La Salle in the quarterfinals, 3-2, and followed up with a hat-trick and five-point effort against defending-champion Holy Ghost Prep in a 6-5 defeat. By his own admission, it was the best game he played in an O’Hara uniform.

“I felt like that could’ve been my last game,” McCanney said. “I had to do everything I could for that team.”

McCanney finished his senior campaign with 39 goals and 68 points in just 18 games. He is the 2018 Daily Times Player of the Year.

McCanney is joined on the All-Delco team by two of his Lions teammates, junior forward John Paul Ahearn and fellow senior captain Justin Boornazian, one of two defensemen on the team along with Haverford High’s Dante Gattone. Michael Giampapa of Ridley, the 2017 Player of the Year, returns to the First Team for the third consecutive year after a 78-point season. Strath Haven junior center Mike Irey and Archbishop Carroll senior goaltender Jacob George complete the squad. The All-Delco teams and player of the year are selected by the Daily Times with input from area coaches.

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Like anyone who toes the line in terms of legal physical play, McCanney often crossed it. He was out to prove that he could not only skate with the La Salle’s, Holy Ghost’s and St. Joe’s Prep’s of the world, but that he could beat them, too. The fiery spirit, and a propensity to retaliate, made O’Hara head coach Ed Banes hesitant to give McCanney a leadership role, despite all his talent.

READ: First team All-Delco capsules

“It was really difficult at first,” McCanney said. “Junior year, I felt like I could’ve been a captain. But I was still young and maturing. Coach really helped a long way in (growing more) mature and making what this team is.”

Banes admitted he and his staff “battled” McCanney throughout 2016-17. But prior to a Flyers Cup tilt with Malvern Prep, he finally gave his star an “A.”

“Basically, it would’ve been easy for me to do it just to do it,” Banes said. “We used it as a challenge to him.”

Cardinal O’Hara players celebrate (91) Liam McCanney in the second period of the Catholic League final. Gritty, fast junior forward Liam McCanney (91) provided scoring — with 26 goals in 11 league games — and leadership as Cardinal O’Hara went undefeated in claiming the Catholic League Blue Division title. (Digital First Media/Pete Bannan)

Although the Lions fell 6-1, that move inspired McCanney in the offseason.

“(Banes) told me after the game, ‘You and Justin (Boornazian) are going to be the captains,’” remembered McCanney. “You have to be ready to step into that role.”

McCanney came out of the gates in 2017-18 flying and teammates followed suit. He had a six-point night against Carroll in an 8-0 win, then a nine-point performance, including four goals, against Flyers Cup A semifinalist Strath Haven eight days later.

With center John Paul Ahearn (69 points) and winger Zac Deemer (55), McCanney drove the most prolific line in the county, as the trio mixed speed, skill and chemistry to devastating effect.

And yet, McCanney still found himself being ushered away by referees. He racked up 52 penalty minutes, most of which came in the season’s first half.

READ: All-Delco hockey team listing

“I thought to myself, I’ve got to stay out of the box,” McCanney said. “You can’t lead in the box. You can’t win in the box. That’s how teams, I felt, got me off my game.”

He learned a hard lesson once he crossed the 50-PIM threshold, which carries a mandatory one-game suspension. With O’Hara fighting to clinch the PCL regular season title, McCanney was a spectator for a crucial February matchup with second-place Archbishop Ryan. The Lions won 5-2.

“It was pretty hard watching from up top,” McCanney said. “I realized that game that my team didn’t need me. It was cool seeing them winning and getting it done without me, but I want to be a part of the win.”

“The fact of the matter is, we tried to let him know just because you’re the best player, you can’t do whatever you want,” Banes said. “Without you, we can win the PCL. With you, the sky’s the limit. We can compete with anybody.
McCanney took the message to heart: “Now it’s my time to go,” he said.

Go he did. When Father Judge climbed back from 2-0 down to force overtime in the PCL title game, McCanney willed O’Hara to victory.

“I was in my own head when they came back,” he said. “I was like, ‘Dang. If we don’t get this done, we look bad.’ So I just focused in.”

He scored the winner then added two more points as the No. 6 Lions clipped No. 3 La Salle in the Flyers Cup. That magical five-point night against Holy Ghost Prep followed.

“As much as my team played awesome,” Banes said “if we didn’t have Liam that’s a four-goal game.”

Instead, it was a one-goal defeat, painfully close given that O’Hara had the equalizer disallowed for a high stick.

“Honestly, I still get chills about that game,” McCanney said. He didn’t quite match the feats of his brother Connor, who won a state championship with the Lions in 2010, but he did restore O’Hara’s place at the top of Delco hockey.

“He was monumental to getting us back to where we want to be,” Banes said. McCanney’s teammates were just as appreciative.

“Everyone on our team came up to me and Justin and shook our hands,” said McCanney, who will try out for the Northeast Generals of the North American Hockey League this summer, “and said thank you for everything we did. It was really emotional. But also, I had pride in it.”

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