Former St. Lawrence University forward and 100-point man Mike McKenzie is navigating through the American professional hockey ranks. He currently plays in the ECHL for the Florida Everblades.
He is keeping a journal of his life post college and in the pro ranks and agreed to let me share it with you each Sunday. These words are his own. If you would like to ask Mike questions about minor hockey life or his writing, e-mail them to me (firstname.lastname@example.org">email@example.com) and I will pass them along. You can also follow Mike on Twitter @MikeMcKenzie11.
Read other McKenzie journals: Nov. 28-Dec. 2
December 6, 2010
Just sitting around watching some Monday Night Football tonight. We had a day off today after a pretty long travel day yesterday. I decided to get a light workout in to try to keep my strength up. This is the time of the year when guys start getting worn down and tired so I find it important to workout. I find it keeps me strong and fresh.
Our northern road trip was a "great success," as Borat would say. We went 5-0 and the boys played really well the whole trip. Not only did we play well, but I think the trip brought our team much closer together. I guess spending 10 days on a bus and in hotels with the same 20 guys will do that though.
After our win Saturday, I got to spend some time with my dad and brother. My dad happened to run into Cincinnati coach Jarrod Skalde, who had a long pro hockey career and played a good chunk of NHL games. We had a good, long chat with him and his assistant coach, who both happened to be great guys. We talked hockey for a while, exchanged some stories and even got to meet Jarrod's son, who is the proud owner of possibly the greatest hockey name ever: Skate Skalde. At one point coach Skalde said to Skate, "Tell these guys the three things you need to be a hockey player." Without even missing a beat, young Skate replied, "Heart, Brain, Balls." Classic! Kid's going to be a player!
After leaving the rink that night I remember thinking that is what hockey is all about. Obviously it is important to play well and try to be the best you can be and chase your dreams, but when it all ends some day, these are the kinds of stories you will remember and cherish. Years from now I may not remember the score or details of the Cincinatti game, but I will definitely remember meeting some great hockey people that night. That is what it's all about: meeting people along the way who share your love for the game of hockey. That is not to say you never cross paths with some not-so-great people, but what makes this sport the best is the amount of the great people is far greater then the amount of not-so-great people.
We are back on the ice in the morning. Time to prepare for a very good Greenville team.
December 8, 2010
Great win for the Everblades tonight. Even though we gave up a late tying goal we showed good resiliency and won in a shootout. It was a really tight game where neither team gave up many scoring chances or made many mistakes. It almost felt like playoff hockey. In games like that you have to adjust your mindset a bit and really focus on playing smart and making simple plays. In tight games like that, small things like getting pucks out, getting pucks in deep and winning battles is just as important as creating a scoring chance.
That leads me to my subject for tonight's entry: adjusting to pro hockey.
You always hear people say there will be an adjustment period anytime you jump to another level. After playing four years of college hockey, you know the team's playing style and where you stand on the team and in the league; you understand what you can and can't get away with at that level and, on most nights, know what to expect.
Coming into a new league and level, there is always that unknown factor and the feeling of “how do I fit into this level?” For me, I didn't feel like there was that much of an adjustment period in terms of actually playing the game. The biggest adjustment I find is mentally.
Most players coming from a lower level are used to dominating games and making things happen every shift they are out there. In pro hockey, there are certainly players who can dominate games, but for the most part, everyone is out there battling for time, space, etc. There are shifts when you go out there and feel like not much happened for the good or the bad. I may have looked down upon these neutral shifts in college hockey, but in pro hockey, they are never a negative.
I've also learned to appreciate the little things, like getting pucks out or perfecting a system. These are the types of things that the best players in the world do every game. It sure is nice to get goals and make plays that the average fan may notice, but there are so many other things within the game that are important that may not be as glamorous. Professional hockey is all about getting these things done, appreciating when you do them and doing them more times than you don't.
That's all for now folks.
December 9, 2010
Today is Thursday, and we practiced this morning to get ready for two more games against Greenville this weekend. Not sure what is up with the weather down here, but it is not hot by any means. I just got back from dinner with Staalzy (Jared Staal) and Mike Kennedy (he's actually pretty cool, for a Cornell guy).
We hit up Bonefish Grill, which is a beauty of a restaurant. We tried to go there three times a couple weeks ago, but the wait was over 45 minutes every time. Luckily tonight some genius thought to call ahead for reservations, and no, it was not the Cornell guy (Ivy League degree is overrated - I've got street smarts. Ha).
College hockey is unique due to the fact that once you choose a college, you're on that team for the rest of the year, or for four years. There are no trades, no pick-ups, no drops. There is the rare transfer, but for the most part, no roster moves occur during a college season.
Pro hockey is the complete opposite. At first it is a little mind-boggling, but you start to get used to it. Someone told me that last year, over 50 players played at least one game for the Everblades. This year we have had our fair share of guys come and go. It is a pretty weird concept to come to the rink and see a random new guy there ready to practice, or get to the rink and realize someone is missing and isn't coming back. That is the beast they call pro hockey, though, and it is just part of the job. Someone is always looking to steal your job, and you are always looking to steal someone else's. I forget who once said that, but it sure is a good, simple way to sum up the reality of a professional athlete no matter what's the sport.