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.

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - TERI PE­COSKIE

BE­FORE

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?”

DUR­ING

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.”

AF­TER

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.”

TERI PE­COSKIE, THE HAMIL­TON SPEC­TA­TOR

Hamil­ton Bull­dogs for­ward Macken­zie En­twistle gives his first in­ter­view as an Ari­zona Coy­otes draft pick.

SUBMITTED PHOTO

Macken­zie En­twistle holds the cham­pi­onship tro­phy as a mem­ber of the 2010 Toronto Marl­boros mi­nor pee­wee AAA team.

TERI PE­COSKIE, THE HAMIL­TON SPEC­TA­TOR

Close to two dozen friends and fam­ily mem­bers made the trip with Hamil­ton Bull­dogs for­ward Macken­zie En­twistle to the NHL draft in Chicago.

TERI PE­COSKIE, THE HAMIL­TON SPEC­TA­TOR

Macken­zie En­twistle’s sup­port­ers were blown away when they got their first look at the pageantry of the draft at Chicago’s United Cen­ter.

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