Westlock’s Cade McNelly, will lace’em up for the 2016-17 Western Hockey League (WHL) champions, the Seattle Thunderbirds.
McNelly, who turns 16 this October, sealed the deal at the conclusion of the Thunderbirds training camp in Kent, Wash last month.
“At first there were no words to express the feeling, I was really surprised,” said Cade. “But after I signed it felt really good.”
This was the 6’2”, 178-pound defenceman’s second training camp with the club, after he was added to the team’s protected list in 2016. Before joining the Thunderbirds McNelly suited up the Fort Saskatchewan Midget
Darcy Romanuik, who coached Cade when he played in Westlock, was happy to hear the news. He said that McNelly is a force to be reckoned with on the ice.
“Cade is one of those players who never takes a shift off,” he said. “He plays hard, he plays aggressive and he plays the right way. When you’re on the ice with him, you want to know where he is. You may go into the corner once with Cade, but you won’t do it again.”
Cade definitely comes from good hockey stock.
His grandfather Stuart and his father Tate both played the game. In the 1990s Tate tended the twine for the St. Albert Saints in the Alberta Junior Hockey League, the Chilliwack Chiefs in the British Columbia Hockey League and finally the SAIT Trojans in ACAC while he completed his education.
Meanwhile Cade’s uncle Brent Bilodeau played defence for the Thunderbirds and Swift Current Broncos back in the 1980s before being taken 17th overall by the Montreal Canadiens in the 1991 NHL Entry Draft.
And Brent’s dad (Cade’s grandpa) Yvon Bilodeau, had a long and storied career that saw him taken in the sixth round of 1971 NHL Amateur Draft by the Philadelphia Flyers.
Tate has a theory where Cade got his fearlessness.
“It comes from his mom (Brandy), for sure,” he said. “I never liked the rough stuff, that’s one of the main reasons I became a goalie. His mom was a basketball player and extremely competitive.”
He said what really sets Cade apart is his devotion to the game on and off the ice.
“We’re really proud, he’s put in a lot of work,” he said. “A lot of his success isn’t just about the hockey — it’s the off-ice stuff. The working out, the eating well. Those types of things are lot more important to make these teams and get to the next level. Hockey’s easy. Everyone loves playing hockey.”
For Cade, adjusting to life in Seattle is keeping him busy in his spare time.
“It’s a really cool city,” he said. “There are lots of activities and sports like football, baseball and soccer.”
McNelly will finish his schooling by correspondence while he plays out the season. As a WHL player, McNelly is guaranteed a WHL scholarship for each year he plays in the league. The scholarship covers tuition, fees and textbooks and is good for any post-secondary institution he feels will help his academic and athletic goals.
He expressed his thanks to his family, friends and coaches for their help getting him this far.