The only place Mackenzie Blackwood is finding ice these days is out on the lake.
The lake just outside Thunder Bay, Ontario is still frozen over from a cold winter. As it begins to thaw, there's certainly no skating on the ice but just as Mackenzie has been able to impress on arena ice this year, he's certainly found a way to be equally as impressive on the lake ice.
"We went and jumped in the lake," the 23-year-old said, a bone-chilling adventure he posted on his Instagram account.
"I jumped in the ice water," he continued to explain. "It kind of shocks the system and wakes you up. It's the thing we do all summer long. We have a sauna, me and my friends, we all go in the sauna. We stay in there until we're really, really hot. Then we go jump in the lake and it just so happens now that we're home a little early and the ice is still left and it's really cold."
As heart-stopping as it may sound, it's nothing for Blackwood and his friends.
Video: BLACK AND RED | MacKenzie Blackwood
"It's something that we've done, always," added Blackwood, revealing himself as a true country kid. "It's really, really fun. I mean, I guess if you're from around here, it's something that you like to do. I just feel like it's one of those things where growing up, we just always have done it and something that we really enjoy doing."
It's actually not a far cry from Blackwood's pre-game routine. Though not superstitious, there is always one thing he needs to do before every game.
"Before every game I always have to have a freezing cold ice tub to jump in before I put my gear on," he revealed. "It's to kind of shock you to wake you up. So, every game I play, before I put my gear on, I jump into the tub and hold my breath under a freezing cold water. It wakes you up better than a coffee could."
As uncomfortable as that polar-bear plunge may sound, it must work.
Blackwood started 43 games this season and appeared in 47 of the Devils 69 games. Arriving back in Thunder Bay earlier than expected, has allowed Blackwood to take stock of how much he has learned and accomplished in just the first 70 NHL games of his career.
"A lot of the time, once you get to the NHL, you always want to keep improving on things and get to the next level, but less is more," he said, "so it's not big things that are the challenging aspects, it's the little details, the consistency and fine-tuning the details of your game that make the biggest difference at this level."
"The more you play, the more games you're in, the more players you watch, you learn plays that are going to happen," Blackwood explained of his growth process, "so you can set up and anticipate where [the play] is going to go before it actually does and you can move into that situation on time and get your whole body in front of the puck before just a piece of equipment there so then you have more consistency."
There has been a lot thrown to the goaltender in a very short amount of time. He made his NHL debut just a year and a half ago and from mid-December to early March posted a 13-3-3 record, the third-best record in the league over that span. He's appeared in more than half of the Devils games in 2019-20 and has a multitude of goaltender partners. For Blackwood, this is all about the learning process. As many accolades he's received this past season, none of it has made its way to his head. He's a humble kid, just along for the ride.
"Learning how to be good more often than not is a big factor in becoming a consistent number one goaltender and I think I've done a better job this year than last year," he admitted. "But I still feel like there's a way to go for me, that's maturity, age and learning how to read your body and get ready to always be mentally dialed in. I think that that's something that I'm always working on, the little details, the hard work and practice. There's a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes that we're always working on. We're always adapting. I think those are two of the main things so help me become a lot better."
Right now, there's no real opportunity for Blackwood to put in that on-ice work. Instead, he's making do with a make-shift gym and a couple of yoga classes to stay in shape, doing the best he can to remain in shape, awaiting word on the remainder of the season.
But there's also no better place for him to take this early break. Out in the Canadian wilderness, with his best friend and a chance to clear his mind, he can step back from the whirlwind and do something else that he loves. He's been living with his best friend, as social distancing orders remain in place in Canada.
"Between the two of us we have a place on the lake and out in the woods," Blackwood said. "We tried a little bit of makeshift ice fishing," he added, one of his favorite off-season activities. "We didn't really have the proper fishing gear because usually we Mackenzie can often be heard in the Devils locker room talking about fishing and his summer outdoor adventures.1're away playing hockey. So, we cut a hole in the ice and tried makeshift ice fishing, but we haven't caught anything yet. We're waiting patiently for the ice to melt. It's still about half a foot thick here. Crazy because it's almost made but you know, as the temperatures go here, it's pretty cold for pretty long and you don't get too much summer, but I think ice is pretty close to being melted."
Mackenzie can often be heard in the Devils locker room talking about fishing and his summer outdoor adventures. It's where he escapes to at the end of a long NHL season, this time it just came a little earlier than expected. He'll be ready to return, if the NHL pause hits play on the season, but until then, he'll take a mental break, out in the woods.
"It's good to get out of the city a little bit and try to get into nature and just kind of get away from it all," he said, "it's definitely not the same as New Jersey because I could imagine it's pretty bad there, but it is serious here. Everyone takes it very seriously. We're not going out in public doing all that kind of stuff. It's good to get out of the city a little bit and you know try and get nature and just kind of get away from it all."