Cade McKee was close before.
During his sophomore year, the defenseman on the Father Judge High School ice hockey team helped the Crusaders get to the Catholic League championship, only to see his team lose to Cardinal O’Hara in overtime.
His junior year might have been even more disappointing. Once again, he helped the Crusaders get to the championship game against O’Hara, but this time they watched the Lions win in double overtime.
Senior year brought yet another matchup with the Lions, but this time no overtime was needed, and the third time was the charm when the same teams met at the Flyers SkateZone Northeast.
Final score: Father Judge 5, Cardinal O’Hara 2.
The celebration was huge and was a long time coming.
“It was so great, we were there twice before and to lose, it was so awful,” said McKee, who lives in Fox Chase. “As bad as it felt losing, it felt that much better to win. It was the greatest night in my life.
“After we celebrated on the ice, we just came home and ate. It was a school night so we couldn’t really stay out. But we’ll be celebrating this forever.”
The Crusaders got two goals from Dominic Corrodo and one each from McKee, Robert Werner and Kevin Rue, and also got a strong performance from McKee’s brother, Colin, a sophomore goalie, to skate off with the championship.
Judge will now try to win hockey’s version of a state championship when it competes in the Flyers Cup beginning on Thursday.
There, the Crusaders will square off against top prep teams in the area, but they go in with plenty of momentum and confidence.
“We really wanted to win the Catholic League because we haven’t done that and it’s what we were fighting for,” said McKee, who netted the game-winning goal against O’Hara. “But now that we won that, I really believe we can win the Flyers Cup. That’s our next goal.”
McKee, a rugged defenseman, started his athletic career by following in his father’s footsteps. His dad, Mike, was a soccer player at North Catholic. That was McKee’s first love as a child, but soon he switched over to hockey and he never looked back.
Using his dad’s advice, he started playing defense and it was a perfect fit.
“When I first started playing, my dad shoved me back there to start and I really liked it,” McKee said. “You have to be good at skating, you can be physical. I loved it because you can be really physical back there. It’s an important position.”
It also worked out for his brother, the goalie, because the two have become quite the pair keeping other teams off the scoreboard. Together, they clicked right away, but the older brother gives his younger brother all the credit.
“He’s really good, he’s one of the best goalies around,” McKee said of his brother. “He started playing last year after taking over, and he played great for us. This year, he was even better. He was so good for us. He’s a really good goalie, and he really helped us this year.
“We work really well together. It’s my job to defend him, and it’s his job to defend the whole team. I loved playing with him. He’s great, he’s great for us and he’s great for his club team. I’m happy I got a chance to play with him.”
For McKee, this year’s championship meant a lot because it’s likely the last time he’ll have a chance to win a title for a school.
He plays club hockey, but he’s not looking to play in college. He has his future plans set, and they don’t involve college sports.
For the next few years, he’ll follow in his dad’s footsteps working for the Philadelphia Gas Works. Just as he does on the ice, he plans on working hard for them, but when he turns 21, he’ll turn his attention to a new career.
“I’ll join the police academy,” McKee said. “That’s my long-term goal. I’ve always wanted to be a police officer. It’s a great job. You can do a lot of good. It’s a good career, and you’ll always be busy. It’s the perfect job for me.”
But before he graduates, he wants to bring home a Flyers Cup to Holmesburg.
It’s a tall task.
The charter schools and other local prep schools have some very talented teams, but McKee is happy with what his team brings to the table. And winning the Catholic League gives him and his mates all the confidence in the world.
“I think we can win it if we play the way we did in the Catholic League,” McKee said. “It’ll be tough, but hockey is tough. I think if we do what we need to do, we can definitely win it. The Catholic League was the best night of my life, but winning that will be even bigger.”
McKee was happy he could win the championship because he was with his teammates. But he’s also glad he could share it with his family.
Not only were his brother and parents in attendance, he also shared the championship with his other younger brother Brennan, 10, his sister Charlotte, 13, and his aunts and uncles.
“Family is really important to me, family first,” he said. “It’s the same way the team is. I had so many people out there supporting me. Family. And we had so many people from our school. They were behind us the whole time. I’m glad we won, not just for us, but for everyone.”