Most people dread having to dip into stone-cold water.
Mackenzie Blackwood thrives on it.
It's just one of the many things we've learned about Blackwood in his first full year with the Devils. He tells the story about his pregame routine like it is nothing, but it's bone chilling.
Instead of caffeine to get him ready for a game, it's a dip into the cold tub.
"Before every game I always have to have a freezing cold ice tub to jump in before I put my gear on," Blackwood 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."
However uncomfortable that may be to the rest of us, it works for the 23-year-old professional athlete. And he's certainly proved that this year.
1. THE ROOKIE
There aren't many rookie goaltenders during the 2019-20 season who had an impact on their team the way Blackwood has. In fact, it's safe to say that none of them did. Mackenzie suddenly became the backbone of the Devils squad this season, jumping into his first game in the season opener in relief of Cory Schneider, who left the game with an injury. From then on, it was Mackenzie Blackwood all the time. Comparatively, Blackwood played in 47 games for New Jersey this season, which ranks first among rookie goaltenders and 14 more than Columbus' Elvis Merzlikins who appeared in the second most games by a rookie goaltender (33).
Not to bore you with stats, but there are a few more and they outline the value that Mackenzie brought to the team. Of his 47 appearances, he started in 43 of those games, Merzlikins once again followed Blackwood with his 31 starts. And where it truly matters most is in the win column, where once again Blackwood finished with the rookie lead and his impressive 22 wins prior to the season pause.
Add a little icing on the cake… Mackenzie was the only rookie goaltender to register a point. His first career point was a primary assist on Damon Severson's power play goal on February 6th against the Flyers, a game where he also made 46 saves in a 5-0 shutout win. Although he admits he didn't really have to do much to earn it.
"I'll get credit with an assist, but that was all his play," Blackwood laughed after the game.
He stopped the puck behind the net, Severson picked it up and went streaking down the ice for the goal.
2. MR. FEBRUARY
If Mackenzie were ever to appear in a monthly calendar, make sure you reserve February. Up until February, Blackwood carried an unbelievable workload on his shoulders, and while he was still generating results, the wear-and-tear was beginning to weigh. The decision to reduce Mac's workload starting in February allowed him to flourish and put together performances that will be appreciated for a long while.
Blackwood ended February with a 6-0-1 record, playing in exactly half of the Devils 14 February games. He nearly made it out of the month with a perfect record, on February 29th giving up the overtime goal to the Kings was the only strike against him. He faced 274 shots in those seven games and stopped 265 of them for a league leading .967 save percentage.
In his first two appearances in February, he posted consecutive shutouts and over the course of the month his .971 save percentage at 5-on-5 led the NHL.
3. TOOTH BE TOLD
On January 7, against the New York Islanders, Mackenzie Blackwood was swimming along just fine until Islanders Ryan Pulock wound up for a slap shot.
The shot hit Mackenzie square in the face, knocking out four of his front teeth in what looked like a very bloody affair. The shot came with just 30 seconds left in the second period, and he was looked after on the ice by Devils medical staff. He came out to start the third period and was able to finish the game. The next day, Blackwood found himself in the dentist's chair, undergoing a rather unpleasant three-hour procedure. It left him without the upper four front teeth as the dentist prepared new ones for him. It was certainly a look.
That's not where the story ends, though. As the weeks went on, Blackwood still didn't have his teeth, sporting his goofy toothless grin around the Devils locker room. And then, all of a sudden, the season was paused. A Canadian, Mackenzie returned home to Thunder Bay, Ontario… leaving his new teeth behind in New Jersey. He admitted that they had been ready for some time, be just had never gone to pick them up, hoping to do so at the end of the season… an end that never quite came.
"I mean I was going to get them," Blackwood recalled on May 4th, "and then I said you know what, I'll just wait until the end of the year and then the end of the year never really came. So, it was just an unfortunate series of events with that one, and then I got stuck with this situation here [points to missing front teeth] for a little bit longer."