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Last fall, 24-year-old Zach McKelvie signed a one-year contract with the Boston Bruins and participated in the team’s pre-season training camp, where he impressed the coaches, especially Rob Murray, the head coach of the Providence Bruins. This spring, McKelvie will not be joining Boston as they attempt to return to playoff form; instead, he will report to Fort Benning, Georgia, for infantry officer basic course training, the result of a new Department of Defense policy concerning athletes participating in team sports.
When McKelvie, a 6’2”-defenseman, originally committed to the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York, the Army’s policy was that graduates could play their respective sport for one year if they signed a contract with a professional team. As a result, McKelvie, who won the fastest skater competition at the 2009 Frozen Four in the nation’s capital, and Bruins General Manager Peter Chiarelli believed that a contract between the two would allow McKelvie to continue developing, if not contribute to the teams within the Bruins organization, for at least a year, at which point the Army would decide whether he could continue playing or enter active duty.
However, the new DOD policy, which was implement approximately 18 months ago (the start of McKelvie’s senior year at West Point), states that athletes participating in team sports must serve for two years before pursuing a professional career. Because of the ruling, McKelvie wasn’t allowed to play this season, despite the contract with the Bruins, and has instead been serving as an intern within the academy’s athletics department. Now, it looks like he may never play again. While the 190-pounder will certainly stay fit in the armed services, his ability to keep his hockey skills sharp will be dependent upon his deployment location and the intensity of some sort of intra-mural hockey team. While it’s not out of the question, McKelvie’s NHL dreams are leaning more towards fantasy than reality at the moment.
As a cadet graced with awards for his outstanding character and leadership ability, McKelvie is not upset by the fact he has to serve.
“I have no problem serving in the military. This is what we train to do here. We train to be a part of this Army and help this country out,” he said.
The problem McKelvie does have with his service is two-fold. Firstly, he feels that the Army “led [him] on,” and is reneging on their commitment to him, a potentially hypocritical act considering the commitment cadets make to the Army. More of an issue to McKelvie, however, is the fact that the new DOD policy affects only team sports, not individual Olympic ones. Therefore, elite skiers, boxers, and so on, of which there are between 60 and 70 currently, are allowed to continue training in the World Class Athlete Program.
“That’s the frustrating part,” he explained to the media. “If they said no to all those athletes, there’s no way I could make an argument that ‘Hey, I should be able to play too.’”
McKelvie is not the first cadet-athlete to feel such frustrations. Lieutenant Caleb Campbell of the United States Army found himself in the same position following his selection in the 2008 NFL Draft by the Detroit Lions. In a decision predictive for McKelvie, Lt. Campbell was unable to play for the Lions and began to serve his first two-year tour with the Air Defense Artillery.
While the future is very unpredictable, both McKelvie and the Bruins organization remain hopeful that the two will be able to sign a contract in the future. Until then, we at SoB wish McKelvie a safe tour and thank all of the men and women serving our country for their sacrifice.