Former NHL goaltender Gary Smith was nicknamed "Suitcase" for the sheer number of teams for whom he played in the NHL and various minor leagues over the course of 16 years in pro hockey.
New Flyers goaltender Mike McKenna, whom the team claimed off waivers on Friday from the Vancouver Canucks, can relate. Including his two-day stay in the Vancouver organization before the waiver claim, the 35-year-old netminder has now been on eight NHL in-season rosters (he has appeared in games with six to date), 11 AHL teams (excluding franchise relocations and repeat stints) and an ECHL team.
Originally drafted by the Nashville Predators in 2002 (6th round, 172nd overall), the St. Louis native played collegiate hockey and graduated from St. Lawrence University in 2005.
Subsequently, after the Predators did not sign him to an entry-level contract, McKenna worked his way up the hockey ladder one rung at a time, starting with portions of two seasons with the ECHL's Las Vegas Wranglers. Most of his subsequent career has been spent in the American Hockey League, where has been been a generally effective netminder at that level, including backstopping the Syracuse Crunch to the 2017 Calder Cup Finals and then doing it again this past year for the Texas Stars.
"I've always been able to perform, and I think I've done so, but it's often been a matter of not being someone's prospect," said the 6-foot-2 netminder in explaining he has been with so many teams. "The role I fell into as a No. 3 (on NHL depth charts), there was always a prospect coming along, and I somehow became the layover guy. My services were needed for a year or maybe two years."
McKenna has played 467 games in the American Hockey League over 14 season. That includes six games this season for Ottawa's AHL affiliate in Belleville, where he went 3-3-0.
"I've seen him beat my teams in Lehigh Valley and Providence a few times. He's obviously an experienced guy, he's had a lot of success in the American League. He's a competitor. Right now we're a little bit thin in net. We're fortunate to be able to get him," Flyers interim head coach Scott Gordon said.
At the NHL level, McKenna has appeared in a total of 34 games for the Tampa Bay Lightning, New Jersey Devils, Columbus Blue Jackets, Dallas Stars and Ottawa Senators (for him he won a game this season against the Flyers). He was traded to the Canucks on Jan. 2 and placed on waivers the following day before being claimed by the Flyers. At the AHL level, he's primarily been a starter. In the NHL, he's mostly been a backup.
"Every game, I prepare for the same way, whether I'm starting or backing up. You don't want to be tossed into a game and not be ready for it. There are things that are beyond your control, but the same thing can happen if you starting a game. It's your job to be ready. That's just what you do," McKenna said.
"I have a burning desire to go out there and compete. I'm not just out there to collect a check. I'm out there because I have pride and I passion in what I do. The game is a challenge and it should be a challenge. I just find that the feeling you get when you go out and you do well is something that you can't compare to anything outside the sporting world. It's something we all chase."
McKenna and wife Rachel have two daughters (Kenlin and Adeline) and a dog (Bauer). The hockey life is a taxing one not only for players such as McKenna but for their family members.
"My older daughter is five. She is in kindergarten currently and she's in Belleville, Ontario, with the rest of my family right now. The carousel keeps going and I keep getting a ticket. We don't know what is going to happen with that. Thankfully, my wife is doing an absolutely incredible job in holding the family together. I haven't gotten to spend much time with them over the last two months, which is admittedly very tough. I sure love my daughters. They're fun to be around. We just had a couple days together over Christmas, and that was really nice."