If you were to ask Liam McLinskey what his favorite award was from 2020-21, the answer would be quite obvious. On March 28, the Quinnipiac University recruit helped himself and his teammates to the 2020-21 Dineen Cup Championship, awarded for the first time since 2019.
However, even before the playoffs, the NCDC coaches had voted and selected the 20-year-old McLinskey as the 2020-21 Player Of The Year in the USPHL’s Tuition-Free Tier-2 Division.
“This means a lot to me, being able to do that for my team,” said McLinskey. “I knew I’d have to step up, after we lost last year’s MVP Mickey Burns [to the University of Vermont]. I felt I did a good job of that.”
McLinskey led all NCDC players in several offensive categories - Points (67), Assists (43), Points Per Game (1.52), first goals (six), power play assists (18), power play points (29), and he also tied for the lead in shorthanded assists (3).
“It was definitely a different year,” added McLinskey. “Our outdoor games at Englewood were a lot of fun. The team really came together in Hub City Tampa. Then, coming back for the final stretch, dialing in and getting it done, it worked out for us obviously.”
This season where he led in so many ways was the culmination of a long career with the Hitmen organization, with whom he played as a youth player. His first USPHL season was in 2016-17, when he starred with the Hitmen’s 15U (then USPHL 16U Futures) Division.
“I came here when I was younger at 14, trusting in the program, and I’ve gone up a step each year. They’ve helped me out. [Hitmen coaches] Jim Hunt and Toby Harris have helped me tremendously,” said McLinskey. “[The Hitmen are] just the best, they do one of the best jobs in the country, they just produce great players every year. There are tons of players going on to play college hockey somewhere.”
McLinskey earned a call-up in 2016-17 with the 16U team, for which he put together 50 points in 27 games in 2017-18. The Hitmen’s 18U team was the next stop for 2018-19, when he was a point per game player with 30 in 30.
His NCDC debut came at the start of the 2019-20 season, when the Hitmen put together a massive regular season. However, the coronavirus just attained pandemic status when the Hitmen would otherwise have been hitting the 2020 playoffs, which were canceled.
The Hitmen picked up right where they left off, winning their first 10 straight. McLinskey - one of many returning Hitmen with that bad taste of the canceled playoffs in his mouth - started right out on fire, scoring 14 points in those first 10 games.
He bridged 2020 and the start of Hub City Tampa in 2021 with a season-high 13-game scoring streak (6-15-21). He nearly bested that points total in just 11 games to end the regular season, scoring nine goals and 11 assists for 20 points.
During the playoffs, McLinskey added three more assists in four games en route to the Dineen Cup Championship. He knows there’s plenty more ahead for him to conquer, as he’ll be joining a strong Quinnipiac program that not long ago prepared former Hitman Connor Clifton for what has become a career as an NHL regular for the Boston Bruins.
“Once I got that Quinnipiac deal, the coaches said ‘this is where the work starts.’ Then you get get to school, and once you get to school you have to actually play,” he said.
Judging from how well he’s done with many moves up the ladder the last few years, McLinskey will have no problem adapting to this next chapter in his life.