by Lisa McRitchie on 01/25/12 at 11:00 PM ET
Matt Mackenzie was the captain of the Calgary Hitmen when he was traded last January to the Tri-City Americans. It was a move to add depth to their blueline as the Americans prepared for what they hoped would be a long WHL playoff run. The Americans’ playoff run was not as long as they had hoped, but the experience gave the third round draft pick of the Buffalo Sabres playoff experience he would not have had with the Hitmen.
It may have been the playoffs that gave Mackenzie the edge at the Buffalo Sabres training camp, but more likely it was just that Mackenzie was ready for the next stage in development and so the Sabres assigned Mackenzie to the Rochester Americans.
Things didn’t get off to the best of starts for Mackenzie since he was scratched the first four games, but once Mackenzie got into the game he slowly found his game. After all, there are adjustments to be made moving from junior to professional hockey.
Mackenzie was in Calgary to see his former team the Hitmen host the Red Deer Rebels on Sunday January 22nd and spoke about the biggest difference he found between the leagues; “Preparation I think.
“You watch the older guys who have played 5, 10, 15 years pro they’re the earliest guys at the rink and they leave the latest. They’re on the ice the longest and then they just take care of all of the little things.
“When you come from junior, you just go to practise and you prepare, but it’s not as in depth as a professional. And I think that it’s one of differences from junior to pro”
Sadly, this was not a simple nostalgic trip to Calgary. Instead, Mackenzie has been recovering from a laceration to his quad suffered in a game in Hamilton on December 3rd.
“It was just a weird play,” Mackenzie said of the injury. “We both fell and I didn’t know that I had fallen on his skate at first. We fell and my whole leg went numb so I knew that something was wrong.
“I went to the bench and I saw the blood on my socks and I got rushed to the trainer’s room. I went right to hospital. They looked at me and did a surgery. They did another surgery when I got back to Rochester.
“Five weeks of doing pretty much doing nothing but healing on crutches. So this is the first week of being able to walk.”
It was a scary injury from the start for Mackenzie. No one knew at the time just how sever the injury was. “I was on the trainer’s bed and I was taking off all of my gear. I didn’t know what I was going to see and [then] seeing this huge deep gash, it was a little scary.
“Not knowing what was going on if it was something to do with my knee or my hamstring but apparently where it cut was probably one of the better spots around where it was for time wise or else I could have been out for the year.”
Mackenzie was able to smile as those with weaker stomachs cringed at the description of the cut and subsequent surgery. Having just seen so many images and videos of Taylor Hall’s brush with a skate blade imagining a deeply wounded leg was a little too easily done.
In the fifteen games that Mackenzie played with the Rochester Americans this season, Mackenzie had three assists, 11 penalty minutes and was a +1. While those numbers may not be career highs, it has a lot to do with the Rochester Americans ‘ 18-15-5-3 record and 10th place in the Western Conference. Not to mention the fact that this is Mackenzie’s first year in the AHL.
“It just took a little bit of an adjustment period going from junior to pro, but I think I was just starting to get into a groove. I hope that with the time I miss I can get back into the swing of things and won’t have to start from scratch again sort of thing.”
Players run the risk of getting cut by a skate every single game they play and in this case, there were nothing that Mackenzie could have done to prevent the injury. Instead, he has to remain grateful that it was not as bad as it could have been.
For Mackenzie the amount of preparation required to play each game has been a change from junior, but that certainly hasn’t been the only difference from the WHL. “The pace was obviously a lot faster, the games a lot quicker but probably after about five games I was playing more of a role.
“The coaches trusted me and I was getting more into the groove… I can get right back into the line-up and not spend too much time in the pressbox.”
Mackenzie is now walking on his own without any bandages or casts, and he cannot wait to get back to playing the game he loves and working towards his first NHL game and a shot with the Buffalo Sabres.
While some reports suggest that Mackenzie will not be returning to the ice any time soon, Mackenzie himself hopes to be back on the ice around February 15th, which will mean that he will have only missed eight weeks.
This was Mackenzie’s first major injury, but once fully healed and recovered Mackenzie hopes to put it all behind him. Especially as Mackenzie should make a complete recovery; there was no tendon or artery damage done. Mackenzie was very fortunate, and won’t be forgetting that any time soon.
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Lisa McRitchie is a fairly new writer, online at least, but makes up for inexperience with passion for the game of hockey and memories of Mrs. Leskiw’s English AP class; who knew they would pay off one day.
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