Alumnus John McCarthy ’04 earns Olympic-sized honor with Team USA invite to 2018 Winter Games
John McCarthy ’04 has seen it all in the world of ice hockey. A veteran of more than 500 games as a pro and now in his ninth season with the San Jose Sharks organization, the 31-year-old forward co-captained an NCAA championship team at Boston University back in 2009 and led the Prep to back-to-back Super 8 tournament appearances in high school. But on New Year’s day, the 6-foot-1, 194-pound lefty got the shock of a lifetime when he was selected as one of 23 players on the Team USA men’s ice hockey roster for next month’s Winter Olympic Games in PyeongChang, South Korea.
“I’m super excited,” says McCarthy, who was drafted by the Sharks following his freshman year at BU in 2006, but completed college and sparked the Terriers to a national title as a senior. “When I found out they were considering me (about six weeks ago), I didn’t really let myself think I’d make it. I just continued to play my game and figured things would work out if they were supposed to work out. That said, it’s something you dream about it as a kid. To get the opportunity is pretty special.”
McCarthy’s former coach and 2015 Ryken Award winner Bob Marinelli was just as chuffed to hear the news that his one-time All-Catholic Conference captain would represent Team USA as an Olympian. But he was perhaps less surprised.
“This couldn’t happen to a more responsible, well-liked person,” said Marinelli, now the Prep’s attendance officer. “He was a player I could always depend on. He was the type of player you wanted on the ice at the end of a close game because there would be no mistakes. He would control the tempo. He had a very calming effect. His ability to be in the right place at the right time and just knowing the game were his strengths. John has very high hockey acumen.”
A FAMILY AFFAIR
Team USA won’t have much time to gel as a unit. The Games open on February 9—eight years and one month to the day that McCarthy made his NHL debut—and the U.S. faces a tough Slovenia team, ranked No. 15 in the world by the International Ice Hockey Federation (the U.S. is No. 5) on Valentine’s Day. The remainder of preliminary qualifying for the medal round doesn’t get any easier. The U.S. faces No. 11 Slovakia on Feb. 16 and No. 2 Russia on Feb. 17.
“There’s a ton of talent and a ton of speed in this tournament field,” says McCarthy, who has five goals and seven assists this season for the Sharks’ American Hockey League (AHL) developmental affiliate, the San Jose Barracuda. “At the same time, I think this U.S. team falls under that same description. It’ll be fun to watch and fun to play in.”
McCarthy will enjoy a bird’s eye view when the puck drops inside Kwandong Hockey Centre, but he won’t be the only spectator from his family. His parents, Frank and Joan, will be on hand along with McCarthy’s fiancé, Erin, his brother and former Eagles linemate, Jim ’02, as well as his sister Kerry and her fiancé, Mark. “The whole crew is coming over,” exclaims McCarthy, also a two-time All-Conference honoree in football at St. John’s.
“We wouldn’t miss it,” adds McCarthy’s father. “It’s very exciting. He’s worked very hard over his career. He’s always prepared, always does his homework, he’s never late. He’s a real lunch-pail type guy. Obviously we’re immensely proud. To be able to represent your country is something not many people get to do, even a lot of NHL or AHL guys never do. A lot of people have helped him get here along the way and the Prep was part of that.”
“I think at the Prep, it’s up to the student-athlete to do their own thing in a lot of respects,” he explains. “Kids are growing up once they reach high school. They’re starting to make their own decisions a lot of the time. It’s not up to the parents to make everything happen anymore. The Prep made John realize that. St. John’s taught him to become an adult. It was a very nurturing experience, but it was also tough.”
McCarthy, a native of Andover who spent a year in the United States Hockey League with the Des Moines (Iowa) Buccaneers after graduating from St. John’s, echoes that sentiment.
“I did a lot of growing up at St. John’s,” says McCarthy, who scored 51 goals and passed for 56 assists as an Eagle, helping the program go 35-19-4 in regular-season play during his three years in a varsity uniform. “Teachers along with coaches like Mr. Marinelli and (current Athletic Director Jim) O’Leary instilled in me the importance of doing the right things on the field and ice, of course, but they emphasized it was equally if not more important to be a positive influence and put in the same effort in the community and classroom. That’s the lesson of my time there.”
"OUT OF LEFT FIELD"
It’s exceedingly rare to make an Olympic team, but McCarthy is unique even in that context. He is one of 15 players on the roster with National Hockey League experience and one of 14 forwards. He’s the eighth-oldest invitee, one of five from Massachusetts and one of team-high four from BU. But he is the only team member who has never played for the U.S. in international competition. It’s no wonder his father, Frank, describes the invitation as “out of left field.”
Digging deeper reveals that McCarthy’s inclusion isn’t completely a bolt from the blue. He retains the same basic skill set that’s allowed him to play at a high level for so long. He’s athletic, skates to the whistle, mucks about in the corners well, wields a savvy stick in the circle and provides a calming, veteran presence on the penalty kill.
There were other key factors as well. The NHL announced last April that no league players would be permitted to participate in this year’s Games—a move that thinned the ranks of eligible selectees. What’s more, Barracuda’s General Manager Doug Wilson enjoys an excellent relationship with Tony Granato, the current head men’s hockey coach at the University of Wisconsin and the head coach of Team USA, as well as Jim Johannson, USA Hockey’s assistant executive director of hockey operations and also the 2018 team’s general manager. Wilson went to bat for McCarthy, first sending game tape to Team USA, then cajoling them to come scout McCarthy in person.
They liked what they saw.
“I’m certainly not the typical invitee,” concedes McCarthy, who played in 88 NHL games between 2009-15. “The role I’m going to play is very specific and one I’m very comfortable with.”
McCarthy will be in Korea to serve as a “bottom six forward,” meaning he’ll skate on the third and fourth offensive lines in addition to entering the game as part of the penalty-kill unit in addition to taking faceoffs. McCarthy is a gritty, industrious, reliable, never-say-die scrapper, and every team needs at least one.
“During my time with the Barracudas, I’ve played all the way from the fourth to first line,” says McCarthy, who notes that the larger international ice surface will require some adjustments, especially vis-a-vis opponents’ shooting and passing angles on the penalty kill. “I can play center and both wings. There aren’t many extra players on the roster, especially with experience up and down lineup and within all three forward positions. I think that adds value in tournament like this.”
Naturally, it’s the privilege of skating in a red, white and blue jersey with USA across his chest that McCarthy values most of all.
“I’m just looking forward to experiencing everything, especially taking part in Opening Ceremonies,” he says. “That and the fact my family is going over makes it special. Beyond that, I’m just hoping to contribute on the ice.”
Team USA opens play on February 14 against Slovenia at 7:10 am ET with all games being live-streamed on NBCOlympics.com and the NBC Sports app.