Vet savour­ing time in NHL

Long­time AHL goalie Mike McKenna, 35, ad­just­ing to life as a backup

The Intelligencer (Belleville) - - SPORTS - MATT TIDCOMBE WWW.BELLEVILLESENS.COM

Mike McKenna ranks in the Top 10 in AHL wins, ap­pear­ances and shutouts. He’s a sure bet for the AHL Hall of Fame when he con­cludes his ca­reer.

But for all he has ac­com­plished across his 559 pro­fes­sional ap­pear­ances, the 35- year- old has won just seven NHL games in 29 con­tests ( 22 starts), de­spite be­ing the win­ningest US born AHL goal­tender.

“It means a lot to win those,” McKenna said. “I don’t have a lot of NHL wins but it’s just hockey at the end of the day. It feels great when it hap­pens and at this point you start to re­al­ize how many peo­ple have been fol­low­ing the jour­ney for so long be­cause when some­thing like that hap­pens your phone’s go­ing off like crazy.

“If you’re play­ing hockey at 35 years old in the NHL, I’d like to think that says a lot in terms of com­pet­i­tive na­ture and what I’ve ac­com­plished be­fore.”

The lat­est of McKenna’s wins came on Nov. 27 when he made 37 saves in a 4- 3 Ot­tawa win over Philadel­phia. McKenna’s NHL de­but was on Feb. 11 2008 for the Tampa Bay Light­ning against the New York Is­lan­ders.

Twenty- nine NHL games later, McKenna is just try­ing to soak in each day he’s in the big leagues.

“It’s al­ways spe­cial and a priv­i­lege, “McKenna said. “You hear peo­ple say that all the time but when you’re here you re­ally re­al­ize it. You also re­al­ize how fun it can be.”

Over the course of 16 AHL sea­sons, McKenna has rarely been a backup. He’s col­lected 226 wins, 27 shutouts and played in 467 games and has led teams to the Calder Cup Fi­nals the pre­vi­ous two sea­sons. With Belleville this sea­son, McKenna is 3- 3 in six games with a 2.72 GAA and a .914 save per­cent­age.

With Ot­tawa, McKenna is only play­ing on back- to- back nights as Craig An­der­son con­tin­ues to get most of the work. McKenna is 1- 1 this sea­son with a 4.66 GAA in five games, two of which were starts.

“It’s been a tran­si­tion for me as I’m use to play­ing a lot,” McKenna said. “There’s def­i­nitely a dif­fer­ent mind­set and prepa­ra­tion for some­one who is in a backup roll like I’ve been here. I’m be­ing as a dili­gent as I can in prac­tice.

“The nice thing is I get a lot of ex­tra work and be­ing on the ice ev­ery day with Pierre Groulx and be­ing able to fine tune my game has been awe­some. It’s al­most like go­ing back to school a lit­tle bit and try­ing to be pre­pared when the time comes.”

With the AHL act­ing as the NHL’s top de­vel­op­men­tal league, McKenna has for some time had a first- hand glimpse at a lot of the young emerg­ing hockey tal­ent play­ing in North Amer­ica.

But with Ot­tawa, he’s get­ting an even more up- close look at the Sens’ youth move­ment as for­mer Belleville play­ers like Thomas Chabot, Colin White, Max La­joie, Drake Bather­son, Chris­tian Jaros and oth­ers, such as Brady Tkachuk, take cen­tre stage.

“It’s awe­some to see the young tal­ent,” McKenna said. “To see the guys in the room that are learn­ing how to play at this level, to be consistent and to see that growth is in­cred­i­ble and grat­i­fy­ing that some­one like my­self in a backup roll, who hasn’t played much, can con­trib­ute to that now be­cause of my knowl­edge over the years.”

WWW. BELLEVILLESENS. COM

Mike McKenna is ad­just­ing to life in the NHL with the Ot­tawa Sen­a­tors.

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