Go ahead, Arizona …
Among the hundreds of hopefuls waiting nervously to hear their names called at the NHL draft was Hamilton Bulldogs forward Mackenzie Entwistle. The Spectator’s Teri Pecoskie goes behind-the-scenes with him as he waits for his life to change forever.
Mackenzie Entwistle is excited. Not only for the NHL draft, but for the NHL draft to be over.
In three hours, the wiry kid from Georgetown, just 17, will travel seven kilometres from his downtown hotel to Chicago’s United Center, home of the Blackhawks and Bulls, for what could be the biggest moment of his young hockey career. Or it could be a bust. He’ll have to wait to find out.
For now, though, he’s happy to chill on an overstuffed couch in the lobby and chat about how he got this far. He’s hunched over his thighs, a ball of nerves in black shorts and a baseball cap. His dad, Dave, sinks into an armchair to Mackenzie’s left.
For both Entwistles, the draft — a two-day affair that kicks off with a flashy and televised first round Friday night — is a novelty. Until Mackenzie came along, says Dave, they weren’t hockey people. He and his wife Margaret were both born abroad — in England and Poland, respectively — and their son was the first in either of their bloodlines to take up the sport. It happened early. When Mackenzie was born in 1999, the Enwistles lived on a cul-de-sac in the quiet community of roughly 31,000 in Halton Hills. Their street was lined with around a dozen homes, several of which were inhabited by hockey families. The Browns were among them. John Brown, whose son Connor went on to captain the OHL’s Saginaw Spirit, decided around the time Mackenzie turned three that the neighbour kid should learn to skate. He’d teach him. At the time, hockey was still a bit of a mystery to Dave, who welcomed the intervention. The tot turned out to be a natural. The following winter, Dave took the next step by signing up Mackenzie, then four, for house league. Within a few years he had graduated to the Toronto Marlboros, one of the province’s elite AAA clubs.
Dave says he and Margaret knew fairly early Mackenzie had hockey talent, but it wasn’t until recently that they understood his NHL potential. Last year, maybe.
Mackenzie says it was probably his minor midget year, when he was drafted to Hamilton. He was 15. Before that, he had “no clue, no clue,” he says. “Obviously, it’s a dream.”
Now that he’s here, though, seen the mock drafts and sat down for interviews with more than a dozen NHL teams, he must have some sort of an inkling of what to expect. Who will pick him, and when. Not really, according to Mackenzie. “I’m going into it with an open mind. I don’t know today, I don’t know tomorrow. I don’t know if I’ll go at all,” he said.
“I’m in it for the experience, and the ideal situation would be going, but I don’t know. I think I’ll probably go tomorrow, if I go at all.”
All signs point to him being selected in the second or third round Saturday morning. He is here Friday night for the opening round just in case but, as he says, there are no guarantees it will even happen the next day. Even players expecting to be called are sometimes passed over. His teammate Ben Gleason sat in the stands in Buffalo last year for both days and never heard his name called.
Still, the likelihood is that he will go, and when he does, there will be a lot of people on hand to celebrate.
Including Mackenzie and his parents, nearly two dozen friends and family members have made the trip to Chicago — his girlfriend, his sister, her boyfriend, his aunt, his grandmother, his godparents, his billet family and others. They’re tough to corral, let alone transport to the draft.
One of Margaret’s friends has a solution. She talked to the concierge, who knew a guy with a bus — a party bus, as it turns out, complete with lasers, a booming sound system and what looks to be a stripper pole in the middle of the aisle. It’s waiting outside the hotel.
They climb in, sit down and make small talk as the rig winds through the Loop, Greektown and the Near West Side. Like Hamilton, Chicago is a city of neighbourhoods.
With about half an hour to spare, they are off the bus and in the concourse where Margaret, clad in black pants and a summer sweater, turns and looks over her shoulder.
“OK,” she says. “Now what?”
One by one, Mackenzie’s entourage peeks through the tunnel. They’re shocked by the enormity of the production — the stage, the screens, the fans, the grid of tables on the arena floor, and the hundreds of men, middleaged and well-dressed, milling around between them.
As her relatives search for their seats 45 minutes before first pick is called at 6 p.m., Mackenzie’s sister, Jessica, walks back out into the concourse and buys a beer. Like her brother, she’s nervous.
“I have so many butterflies, it is not even funny,” she says.
Better than anyone, maybe, Jessica understands the uniqueness of Mackenzie’s experience. Her path was typical by comparison — she finished high school, went away to university and is now about to start her first real gig on the supply list at Hamilton’s public school board.
She knows how much time she and her parents committed to Mackenzie’s success. It takes a lot of it to raise an elite hockey player these days, even one ripe with talent. She’s not envious, though. Just proud. “A lot of these past couple of years have always been about ‘Mackenzie, Mackenzie,’ but I think I’m OK with that because I had my time with graduation and I’m sure I’ll have my time when I get a full-time job,” says the 23-year-old. “This is Mackenzie’s spotlight right now, and I don’t think I’ve had to give up too much. I don’t consider it giving up any time because I’ve been supporting him.” There were other sacrifices, as well. When the kids came along, Dave and Margaret — both former cops who have since retired from the Toronto Police Service — started working opposite shifts so that one of them was always home. On top of that, they often took time off work for tournaments and games and spent a small fortune for him to play the sport at a high level.
How much? Between registration fees and other expenses, like equipment and travel, a single season of AAA in the Greater Toronto Hockey League can easily set a family back $10,000 or more.
“I’ve already told Mackenzie if he ever gets to a position in hockey where he’s making good money, I have a list,” Dave quips. “There’s an IOU list, for sure.”
About 20 minutes before the first pick is announced, Mackenzie settles into his spot between Dave and Margaret. In a sea of black and grey, he stands out in a cobalt blue suit, brown shoes, grey tie and crisp white shirt with his initials embroidered on the cuffs — a gift from the Bulldogs he’s wearing for luck.
The look, it turns out, was orchestrated by Niki Petti.
A few weeks before the draft, Mackenzie asked his former teammate for a little help in the fashion department. His advice was simple: “just drive down to Niagara, bring your parents’ credit card and I’ll hook you up.”
“It wasn’t a cheap suit,” Mackenzie admits, a point Dave confirms. “I still have a bone to pick with Niki Petti.” The draft starts, along with the waiting. Over the next three hours, Mackenzie hears 31 names announced — none his. The party bus is quiet on the way back to the hotel.
Outside, before calling it a night, he says he’s not disappointed he was overlooked, “not really.”
“Obviously, it would have been nice to go in the first round, but I went into this day with an open mind,” he adds. “Whatever round I go in, if I go at all, I’ll be extremely honoured and happy.” Saturday morning comes quickly. By the time they meet in the lobby, around 7:30 a.m., several of the Entwistles have been up for hours, anxious they would sleep through their alarms. They clutch cups of coffee as they climb back onto the party bus and repeat the trip to the United Center.
The mood feels different today. More serious.
“Dress rehearsal’s done,” Margaret explains.
Mackenzie looks calm as he slides back into his seat at the start of the second round. Wearing the same suit. Dad wasn’t buying him a second one. By Round 3, however, his knees are dancing in nervous anticipation, the same way they do in the Bulldogs dressing room before a big game.
It’s Florida’s pick at No. 66. Then Carolina is on the clock. Followed by Montreal. Once the Canadiens’ pick is called, the announcer’s voice booms from the speakers. “Go ahead, Arizona.” The family has its theories about who might take him. Arizona isn’t in that conversation. The Coyotes had talked to him throughout the year but it didn’t strike him as somewhere he’d end up. So, the Entwistle crowd keeps chatting among themselves as the Arizona microphone is turned on.
“From the Hamilton Bulldogs, Mackenzie Entwistle.”
He jumps to his feet. His family and friends begin to scream. Later, Margaret says she heard nothing — she was in shock — and his grandmother was so excited she dropped her cellphone. He leans over and doles out hugs and high fives to everyone within reach.
Mackenzie treads down the stairs toward Arizona’s table, pausing to awkwardly embrace his longtime teammate Matt Strome, who’s still waiting to hear his name called. Then, before he even makes it to the arena floor, the announcer is back at the microphone and the moment — the one he’s dreamt of since he was a kid playing house league in a rink near Pearson Airport — is over.
“Next selection, Chicago.”
For Mackenzie — for any player — the immediate aftermath of the draft is a blur of behind-the-scenes handshakes, photo shoots and paperwork. After that come the press interviews.
About 30 minutes after his name was called, he emerges from behind a black curtain in the maze of rooms beneath the United Center. A Coyotes staff member leads him to a desk for his first official scrum as an NHL prospect. Voice recorders and microphones are thrust toward him, and the typical questions ensue.
“Can you explain to us what it was like to be drafted by the Coyotes?”
“Talk about your journey.”
“What would you say are your best skills as a hockey player?”
“I heard scouts calling you a steal. Did you think you were going to go before this point?”
“How would you characterize your season?” Mackenzie responds with poise. The draft was nerve-racking, he says, but he’s “excited to get started” and “couldn’t be happier.” He credits his parents and his billet family for helping him along the way and says the fact that he was drafted is “something remarkable.” He never thought he would be here.
His best attribute, he tells them, is his ability to use his body and size and skating to his advantage. He’s “more of an energy-type player and a role player.” As far as his selection in the third round is concerned, he went pretty much right when he was projected.
When it comes to last season, a characterbuilding campaign in which he missed more than a month with mononucleosis and produced less than he wanted to as a result of being relegated to Hamilton’s third line, Mackenzie says it was good but admits there were ups and downs — the low point being his illness. He felt “out of it” and lost a lot of weight — 10 pounds or so from his 181-pound frame — and was banned from the rink and his teammates while he recovered. “That was the hardest part,” he says. When the scrum wraps up, Mackenzie is swept away again, this time to the Coyotes’ private box on one of the rink’s upper levels. There, he’s reunited with Dave and Margaret, who have just been told he’ll be on a flight to Phoenix for development camp at 7 a.m. the next day.
What they know is he’ll be back before his 18th birthday on July 14. However, he’ll have to miss graduation, just like he missed his high school prom the previous night. Mackenzie doesn’t mind. “If hockey doesn’t work out, I still have that opportunity to go to school and do what all of my other friends are doing right now, but obviously when I’m a little bit older,” he says. “If I didn’t like this, I wouldn’t be here, you know?”
Back on the party bus, cans of chilled beer — Corona, Modelo and Miller Lite — are passed around, and the Entwistles toast their first NHL prospect. They’re happy and relieved, but also a little cautious. While being drafted is a massive accomplishment, Mackenzie and his family are also aware it’s the first step in a long trek toward an NHL career, and the numbers aren’t in his favour.
In their book “Selling the Dream,” Ken Campbell and Jim Parcells found that the odds of an elite junior player like Mackenzie — one of the handful identified by scouts and experts as one of the Canadian Hockey League’s top prospects — playing even one game in the NHL is slightly under 68 per cent. The chance of playing 80 games, or roughly a season, is less than 46 per cent, and the likelihood of playing more than 400 games is 29 per cent on the nose.
In fact, it’s possible he’ll never get a cent from Arizona. Prospects aren’t just given contracts — they have to be earned.
Margaret’s OK with that. As she sees it, “he’s right back to minor atom in a sense, because he’s got to work his way back up.”
More importantly, Mackenzie is clear on this, too.
“If you get drafted, you get drafted,” he says.
“There’s still work to be done.”
Hamilton Bulldogs forward Mackenzie Entwistle gives his first interview as an Arizona Coyotes draft pick.
Mackenzie Entwistle holds the championship trophy as a member of the 2010 Toronto Marlboros minor peewee AAA team.
Close to two dozen friends and family members made the trip with Hamilton Bulldogs forward Mackenzie Entwistle to the NHL draft in Chicago.
Mackenzie Entwistle’s supporters were blown away when they got their first look at the pageantry of the draft at Chicago’s United Center.