By: Madison Hricik, Freelance Submission

Madison is a former media relations intern for the Rail Yard Dawgs, who has since taken her career to Raleigh, North Carolina to cover the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes, and to Columbia, South Carolina to cover the SEC’s South Carolina Gamecocks.



Roanoke’s captains Mac Jansen, Josh Nenadal, and Matt O’Dea set up a captain’s meeting on a Monday off-day roughly midway through the season. They had a list of items on the makeshift agenda, chatting about the remainder of the regular season, playoff expectations — the usual. 

There was one additional topic to discuss during that meeting back in January: selecting who should receive the final assistant captain honor for road games. The Rail Yard Dawgs lost their previous assistant captain, Nick Ford, after he signed an international contract overseas to play in Poland. 

The Dawgs made their decision in less than a minute. No hesitation, no debate needed. They chose to make history by selecting first-year centerman Owen McDade to wear the ‘A’ moving forward. 

“He was just an instant fit,” Nenadal said. “And in the (locker) room, I mean, he is the guy in the room. He’s a glue guy for us.”

McDade doesn’t have a cell phone number. Well, at least that’s what Nenadal thought when the 28-year-old started Roanoke’s training camp in September. McDade had spent his entire life in small towns outside the U.S. He never needed an American number. 

That made it a little harder for Nenadal and the Dawgs to contact him, but thank goodness for social media DMs.

“I was initially like, ‘What is this guy’s deal?’” Nenadal chuckled. “And then we figured out he just didn’t have an American number. So I just had to communicate with him on Instagram.”

But McDade made a quick impression on the Dawgs’ coaching staff, playing as a true centerman and quickly securing a spot as an SPHL newcomer in his third season of professional hockey. 


Roanoke needed to fill the gaps left by centermen Gehrett Sargis and Billy Vizzo from last year’s President’s Cup Championship team, and Owen McDade has been a valuable new addition through the middle for Roanoke this season. (Photo Credit: Michele Hancock)

McDade had never heard of the SPHL, much less the City of Roanoke. An agent had connected McDade with the Dawgs’ coaching staff. 

It was a massive change for McDade after spending the last two seasons overseas in Finland. The Combermere, Ontario native knew no one, and head coach Dan Bremer along with assistant coaches Ian Roberts and Nick DeVito didn’t know him. 

The SPHL has twice as many games in the season, it’s a much more physical league, and he’d be joining a mature group of new teammates — all fresh off a President’s Cup Championship.

McDade knew exactly what to do: pack light, take the risk, and try his best to earn a role with the Dawgs.

“I think I’ve always kind of had the travel bug,” McDade explained. “I like living in new places and playing in new places.”

He watched as Jansen skated onto the ice with the President’s Cup in hand to the 6,000 roaring fans in attendance on Opening Night at Berglund Center. He looked around as his brand new teammates all swelled with pride seeing their banner raised to the rafters. 

McDade says he thought to himself, ‘I want that.’ After a 4-0 smackdown of one of Roanoke’s biggest rivals, Fayetteville, in front of a raucous home crowd… how could he not?

“That makes you hungry,” McDade said. “That you want to repeat and be a part of something like that, going forward, for the year to come.”


Owen McDade skates in his debut for the Dawgs back in Roanoke’s 4-0 Opening Night win over Fayetteville on October 20, 2023. McDade says he knew that night that he wanted to be contribute to what he hopes is another deep run in this year’s President’s Cup Playoffs. (Photo Credit: Bryar Turner)

McDade is a natural center, a key hole in Roanoke’s lineup that needed filling. The Dawgs didn’t have Gehrett Sargis or Billy Vizzo returning, both were the only true centers during the championship run. Ford and Nenadal each had played a lot of minutes at center, but both had also seen extensive time along the wings during their careers in Roanoke.

“It was crucial for Roanoke to replace a couple of really great players at such a key position like center this offseason, and McDade’s role has just continued to grow as the season moves along,” said Mitch Stewart, media manager/play-by-play broadcaster for the Dawgs. “McDade checks so many boxes for what you could possibly hope for out of a centerman. I think he’s shown that he’s more than willing to do whatever could possibly be asked or expected out of him all season. You hear the phrase constantly, but Owen truly is a team-first type of guy.”

McDade has a 200-foot game, he can perform on special teams, and his vision on the ice gives his linemates the ability to create plays on a whim. The season was a few months old before McDade got comfortable. 

Once it clicked, it really clicked.

“It clicked around Christmas,” Nenadal said. “I think that was where he just decided he was going to put his head down and go to the net. And that’s where he started seeing his success grow.”

McDade had 10 points heading into the final game of 2023. He finished the regular season with 39, including a team-high seven power play goals. McDade’s 19 goals were second on the team, only trailing fellow alternate captain CJ Stubbs for the team lead.

“My wife and I were out with some family friends earlier this season, and they were asking ‘who’s a new guy that’s kind of standing out to you a little bit?’” Roberts said. “And I said, ‘Honestly, I think this Owen McDade kid is really special.’ And they said ‘why is that? Why is he kind of jumping out in front of some others in your opinion?’ It just comes down to him doing all the right things. He’s the total package.”


A realization that Owen McDade had truly taken his game up a notch – the Roanoke center tallied a hat trick and two assists in a 6-2 win by the Dawgs over Huntsville on December 30, 2023 at Berglund Center. (Photo Credit: John Wacher)

McDade hadn’t worn a letter on his sweater in over a decade. It was back when he learned to play hockey in a small town, with a 250-person population two hours north of Toronto.

He grew up on backyard pond skating and a neighborhood, makeshift hockey rink — the fairytale beginning for any future skater. 

McDade played in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL), a major juniors league used to develop future NHL prospects, alongside Anthony Cirelli (Tampa Bay Lightning) and Scott Laughton (Philadelphia Flyers). 

“The OHL was great,” McDade said. “A great experience. I got to play against a lot of guys that are now playing in the NHL or the AHL, so it was definitely good for development.”

But injuries plagued him. McDade had to take five years off from hockey, not formally lacing up skates from 2016-21. McDade instead went to school, earning a general business degree at Trent University. Receiving an education was a priority, and he wanted the versatility that a business degree could provide. 

His return to the ice finally came in 2021, and McDade left for Finland to play in the Suomi-sarja league. He suited up for Muik Hockey for two years. Thankfully, everyone spoke English, so there wasn’t a language barrier. 

McDade got the call from his agent over the summer, and he quickly decided he was packing up once again.

“You hear from numerous agents, ‘Hey, I got a guy I think would be a good fit, here’s kind of his stat line,’” Roberts explained. “And you take your pick, and obviously try to make an educated guess.” 

The announcement of McDade becoming one of the team’s captains was nonchalant. Bremner was in practice the day after McDade was named assistant captain, and the Dawgs’ head coach broke the news to the team.

The team’s response? Stick taps all around from all of the Dawgs on the ice.

“Right at the end of drawing up the drills, Dan was like, ‘Oh hey, by the way guys, McDade is going to be an assistant captain,’” Nenadal said. “It was a very Owen McDade way of how to tell everyone. It was really nonchalant.”

McDade wore the ‘A’ on his sweater for the first time in front of his family, who had made the trip down to see him play a few days later.

McDade knew he’d found his role on the ice, and was excited to expand his role into the locker room. His experience overseas allowed him to share a unique perspective with the team. It was also a matter of showing what he could do, and proving he could be a guiding beacon in whatever capacity needed.

The beacon became playing smart, simple hockey. McDade would never let things get too complicated, and has excelled at the basics all season. 

“He does all the little things that we need everybody to do and to embody in order to have team success,” Roberts said. “But then when we do need a very skilled player, or a high level, high hockey, IQ level player, he finds a way to provide that too. It’s just been something that we’ve been so happy and impressed with to see his continual growth throughout the season.”

It’s also just being human, being a brother to his teammates in the locker room. 

“He’s two years younger than me, but man, does he just give me old, old soul vibes all the time,” Nenadal said. “It’s hilarious. I tell him that all the time.”


Owen McDade has proven to be a force in front of the net this season, doing the dirty work in the opposing crease. McDade’s 19 goals were the second-most on the team during the regular season. (Photo Credit: Michele Hancock)


McDade will get knocked for his lack of a U.S. phone number, his rather loud car, and his love for cooking and Blue Jays baseball. He’s just glad to be a part of a team, and happy to be playing hockey. 

“He’s just a really laid-back guy in that room,” Stewart said. “I think his composure and personality at large really contribute to the positivity of this group. He’s someone that can crack a lot of jokes or hit you with that trademarked ‘No problem’ response, but he is as intense and as gritty as they come when it’s time to lock in.”

That ‘No problem’ tagline is a great indicator of McDade’s game. Do you need someone to battle in front of the net and make life hard for the opposing goaltender? No problem, Owen is your guy. Is an opponent taking some cheap shots at some of Roanoke’s players? No problem, Owen is willing and capable of taking care of that with a scrap. Do the Dawgs need a late, clutch play or a faceoff win? McDade has shown with two hat tricks this season and a multitude of big-time showings (a late game-tying goal at Huntsville in February and his primary assist to Tommy Munichiello in overtime at Birmingham in March stick out) late in games that it is, once again, no problem.

The ‘No problem’ motto coined by McDade has become so popular among the group that the team’s playoff t-shirts feature McDade’s league headshot with that exact tagline printed underneath on the back of the apparel.

Wearing the ‘A’ on his jersey for the first time was an emotional rollercoaster. To some, sure, it’s just a patch on his jersey. But for McDade, it means a lot more to him than an ordinary iron-on. That letter is five years sidelined from the sport he loves, all of the blood and sweat from early morning workouts, and sore muscles adjusting to increased playing time. 

“I think I’m a pretty positive guy,” McDade said. “And I just try to keep it even keel and keep the vibes not too high, not too low in the dressing room. But I definitely think my role has grown as the season’s gone on.”

He felt the hunger burn in his body on Opening Night. McDade is now fighting for a championship of his own for the Dawgs in the President’s Cup Playoffs, which he says would be his first title since playing minor hockey.

“It’s the accumulation of all the work that you put in throughout the season, knowing that you’re going to the playoffs,” he said. “And I’m hoping my favorite moment is yet to come. It’s going to be in about a month or so, when we lift the trophy again.”

Roanoke has found in McDade another true centerman that they’ll need if the Dawgs hope to make it back to a third consecutive President’s Cup Final, or to repeat as league champions. Whatever happens next, the Dawgs know that they can rely on number 72 to pull his weight. And there’s no problem at all with that assumption.



Featured Image Credit: Weslie Rouse