By Zach Breeding, Co-Editor of Sports
LEBANON, Ill. – Anyone who has followed the McKendree men’s hockey team as of late is well aware of their success. And anyone who pays attention to the stats or watches the games is also aware that much of this success falls on the shoulders of starting goalie Andrew Best.
This previous season, Best was a standout performer. He limited opponents to just a 2.06 goals against average prior to entering the team’s last tournament of the season. Considering that the Bearcats regularly scored more than seven goals in each game makes this statistic even more impressive. However, looking back on the path that brought Best to Mckendree, it’s clear that he faced many trials and tribulations along the way.
From a young age, it was clear what sport Best would play. His father was also a goalie when he played, and this influenced Best’s decision when he began in the sport as a tyke. Not wanting to waste any time developing his skills, the 6’3″ goalie from Midland, Ontario has been on the ice since the age of 3, and between the posts for all but three of those years.
Best was a part of the Junior-C team in his home town during his high school years before heading off to college at Nipissing University, where he was to play for their hockey team. However, a week before he was to start college and begin practicing, he was told that the team was going in a different direction and there wouldn’t be any hockey played that year. This caused Best to enter a year long hiatus from hockey where the most practice he got was on a nearby pond.
Deciding that he wasn’t prepared to give the up the sport without a fight, Best returned home and again played for his local Junior-C team in the Ontario Hockey Association. His time here ended up being his most trying in the sport. This was also when his familial support system had their greatest impact on his path.
Taking a year off of any sport and then immediately returning to it at a competitive level is a huge challenge. This is especially true in a position like goalie, which takes hours and hours of training to master. Best was cut, traded from team to team across his city and was ultimately referred to as a “fill in” who would be dropped as soon as the two other goalies on his team improved.
Facing adversity on all sides, Best attributes his ability to persevere to his parents constant support of his decision to get back onto the ice despite seemingly everyone else being against him. “Coming back from University for a year, a lot of people were asking me ‘why are you doing this?’, especially when I was having a hard time in Junior-C. But my parents encouraged me to keep pushing myself and go farther.”
The next year, Best made it onto the local Junior-A team (a step up in skill from Junior-C). Best then found his footing, leading the league in saves with 1,055. This garnered Best enough attention to be recruited by McKendree, where he has been the backbone of a strong team for two seasons.
The Bearcat men racked up 22 wins this past season, which included an incredible 17-game win streak along the way . Other accolades of the season include a conference championship culminated with a 4-1 victory over the University of Iowa, and a promising performance in their regional tournament game against Michigan, where Best posted an astounding 94.9 save percentage. Individual highlights for Best this season include being named Goalie of the Year and First-Team All Conference.
The final highlight of the season will come this April at the Conference All-Star Game in Philadelphia, where six Bearcats have been chosen to represent the Middle American Collegiate Hockey Association. Joining Best on the team will be Ty Watt, Levi Armstrong, Dominic Naas, Ryan Sizer and Steve Csanyi.
With most of its starters coming back for next season and a very solid recruiting class, McKendree could be looking at its first ever men’s hockey national championship in the coming years – with Andrew Best as the anchor of the team.