The journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step, or so said ancient Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu. It is impossible to how long goaltender Daren Machesney’s pro hockey journey will stretch, but the 19-year-old netminder will make the first step in that journey this fall.
Machesney is an Ontario native who was Washington’s fifth-round (143rd overall) choice in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft. After completing his second full season with the OHL’s Brampton Battalion in 2005-06, Machesney signed his first pro contract with Washington last Mar. 23, and then backstopped the Battalion to the second round of the OHL playoffs. Although he has a season’s worth of junior eligibility remaining, Brampton is very much in Machesney’s rear view mirror.
“I’m under contract with these guys, so the goal is to play pro,” he says succinctly.
Olie Kolzig and Brent Johnson are slated to share the netminding chores in Washington this season. Frederic Cassivi and Maxime Daigneault are the likely goaltending tandem for the Capitals’ AHL affiliate in Hershey this season, so Machesney would likely cut his pro teeth with the South Carolina Stingrays of the ECHL in 2006-07.
It’s common and recommended practice for NHL teams to build from the net outward, starting with goaltending. With Kolzig under contract for the next two seasons, the Capitals believe they’re in good shape in goal for that time span. At the same time, the Caps also realize that the 36-year-old Kolzig cannot play forever. The Capitals have a number of goaltenders in their system and they hope to groom at least one of them as Kolzig’s eventual successor.
Machesney is part of that cast. After starting the 2003-04 season with the Newmarket Hurricanes in the Ontario Provincial Junior Hockey League, Machesney moved up a level to Brampton late in the campaign. He started five games, winning three of them. The following season, he split Brampton’s netminding workload with Kevin Couture. Machesney was the lone OHL goaltender to appear in the annual Prospects Game in 2004-05, and he played extremely well in the playoffs although Brampton was eliminated in the first round.
Weeks later, he was the second OHL netminder selected in the Entry Draft. Because the draft was hastily scheduled after the lengthy lockout finally concluded, few prospects were in attendance at the 2005 draft in Ottawa. Although he wasn’t picked as early as he had hoped, Machesney was happy the Capitals chose him.
“On draft day, we had some family over,” he recalls. “I was just kind of watching the computer, and it got pretty stressful when things didn’t happen as planned. That’s how it goes sometimes. But after I was picked, I was pretty excited and proud to be a Capital.
“I had a short list of teams that had some interest and had shown some interest, but with the draft you can’t predict. You just never know. It was obviously a surprise to be picked then, but a good surprise.”
The Caps’ have had an eye cast in Machesney’s direction for several years now. When the goaltender was barely a teenager, Washington scout Steve Bowman used to fire some shots at him in the streets of their mutual hometown in Ontario.
“There were definitely some ties with the organization,” admits Machesney. “Steve’s dad was best friends with my grandpa when he was alive. It’s kind of neat.”
Machesney attended his first pro camp in Washington last fall. Although he did not appear in any of the Capitals’ preseason games, he did perform well in the annual Black and White Scrimmage before being returned to Brampton. Last season, Machesney got into 49 games with the Battalion, recording a club record 28 victories. His performance earned him a pro contract. He is likely to get a taste of NHL action during the 2006-07 preseason. From there, it’s on to a pro career that he hopes will lead to a long stay in the NHL. He knows the odds are long.
Since the inception of the Washington Capitals as an NHL franchise in 1974, the team has participated in 33 NHL drafts. The Caps have selected 34 goaltenders in those drafts, and a mere nine of those netminders have gone on to don a Washington sweater. (Another reached the NHL but never played for the Caps.) Only four of the 34 goaltenders drafted by Washington have gone on to play as many as 100 games in the NHL. Machesney is one of several recently drafted Washington netminders who hopes to buck those long odds.
Only 41% of all the goaltenders drafted by NHL clubs during a recent 25-year span (1974-98) reached the NHL and a far smaller amount (20%) managed to carve out an NHL career of as many as 100 games. As you’d expect, netminders chosen early in the draft have a better track record of reaching the show. Johnson, who joined the Caps in 2005-06, is one example of a fifth-rounder who made good. He was Colorado’s fifth-round selection (129th overall) in 1995, and made it to the NHL with St. Louis in 1998-99. Johnson has gone on to appear in 177 NHL games, and counting.
Machesney believes he knows what he has to do to achieve his dream of reaching the NHL.
“I need to work on my overall strength and my legs,” he declares. “Obviously in the pro game guys are bigger and stronger. You can never be strong enough or quick enough, so I am going to keep on trying to get better and improve in every aspect of my game.”
Machesney was listed as being six feet tall and weighing 163 pounds when the Capitals drafted him. Brampton’s web site has him listed at the same height, but having added 14 pounds since he was drafted.
Machesney attended Washington’s annual summer development camp in Hershey last month, and was very steady and consistent in the evening scrimmages throughout the week. He showed good lateral movement, a quick glove hand and an ability to keep rebounds out of harm’s way. As good as he was, Machesney feels he can be better.
“I thought I wasn’t as sound as I usually am,” he assessed, after the final scrimmage. “I felt like I had to scramble a couple of times. But sometimes when you don’t feel like you have the legs, you just have to make the saves as best as you can. I didn’t feel as good as I would have liked to, but you have to deal with that sometimes.”
The week at camp marked the first time Machesney had been on the ice since season’s end. He feels it will be a good springboard to the rest of his summer work.
“It’s a little different because some guys take some time off in the summer,” he remarked at week’s end. “This kind of gets things going again. The guys from Hershey, they have had just a short break. But myself, I’ve been off the ice for probably two or three months. So this is a good opportunity to get things going again. I felt pretty good, but I’ve got a lot of work to do over the summer.”
As his pro career gets underway, Machesney will be able to spend more time with Dave Prior, the Capitals’ goaltending guru, including some quality time on the ice.
“Me and Dave have [worked] together now for about a year,” says Machesney. “This year he wasn’t able to work with me on the ice. He came down a few times to see me play, and we would have chit-chats about my game and the things I need to work on. The good thing about Dave is that he doesn’t want to change your style of play. He just lets you play your style and try to fine tune a couple of aspects of your game.”
Like most Ontario boys, Machesney grew up a Maple Leafs fan. But his allegiance is wavering.
“I was kind of a fickle Leaf fan,” he says. “They just can’t win, so I’ve kind of jumped off that bandwagon.”
A former Toronto goaltender is among those he watched closely as a kid.
“Guys like Marty Brodeur and Curtis Joseph, who have had success in the NHL,” he says, when asked about goaltenders he admired while he was growing up. “I don’t really pattern my game after them but just see how they play and go from there.”
Now Machesney take that next step in “going from there,” the first step of his pro career. He is ready.
“I am excited and raring to go, and we’ll see what happens,” he says. “I am not going to put expectations on myself. I’m just going to go out, play my best and whatever happens, happens.”