What a difference 10 months can make.
After being sidelined with a quad laceration last season, Rochester Americans defenseman Matt MacKenzie is determined to make a difference in this year’s lineup. The ugly injury (which occurred in a game against Hamilton on December 3) saw MacKenzie sidelined for 39 games but he believes it’s made him hungry to have a big comeback season this year.
“Being off the ice for two months and seeing the guys play, it was tough,” said MacKenzie, who has been held without a point in three games this season. “I wanted to get back on the ice. Even though I wasn’t playing, just getting back on the ice was my motivation.”
MacKenzie only saw the ice for a total of 25 games last season (20 with Rochester; five with the ECHL’s Gwinnett Gladiators) because of the major injury, but he worked hard and stayed focused on getting back to full strength during the entire recovery process.
“I knew I had to work hard to get back. I had to re-strengthen my whole quad with rehab,” explains the 21-year-old from New Westminster, BC. “I was making progress each day, each week. It kept me positive each week knowing I was closer to getting back.”
MacKenzie grew up playing both hockey and soccer and shared a love for both. He started at about six years old and balanced the two until he was about 12, when he had to decide which one to focus on.
“It came to a point where I had to choose between the two,” MacKenzie said. “I really enjoyed both sports but I just felt I enjoyed hockey a little bit more. At the time it was just fun.”
It was already in the family. MacKenzie’s father had grown up playing hockey in the Vancouver area and had a great deal of connections. He was a big hockey guy and passed that along to his son.
MacKenzie played the majority of his career in juniors with the Calgary Hitmen, and served as team captain for the 2010-2011 season before being traded to the Tri-City Americans. Earning that role helped with the transition from junior to the professional ranks.
“I was relied on pretty heavily to be a leader, to lead both on and off the ice,” MacKenzie said. “It developed a big part of who I am. You don’t just worry about yourself; you worry about your teammates. It helped me evolve as a person and a player.”
His best junior season came in 2009-2010, when he set career highs in assists (34), points (40), and plus/minus (plus-16) in 64 games for the Hitmen. He carried that success with him into the postseason that year, appearing in all 23 games and scoring 16 points. That June, the Sabres drafted MacKenzie in the third round (83rd overall) of the 2010 Entry Draft.
The adjustment from junior to the professional ranks was a tough one, but MacKenzie has adjusted and has the skill to make a positive impact on the Amerks this season.
“My last year of juniors, I was kind of uncertain of what was going to happen,” MacKenzie said. “When they decided to keep me around I was pretty pumped.”
MacKenzie will carry that attitude with him into this season, as he looks to make up for lost time and get back into the swing of things.
Born: October 15, 1991, New Westminster, BC, Canada
Last Amateur Club: Tri-City (WHL)
How Acquired: Selected by Buffalo in the third round (83rd overall) of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft.
CAREER: 2011-12: Split his first professional season between Rochester and the Gwinnett Gladiators of the ECHL • Was sidelined for 39 games (12/4-2/25; 4/7-4/14) with an injury •Made his ECHL debut for Gwinnett against South Carolina (2/29) • Recorded the first two points of his professional career as part of a two-point (0+2) game against Albany (11/25) • Made his AHL debut vs. Syracuse (10/18)… 2010-11: Split final junior season between Calgary and Tri-City of the Western Hockey League • Totaled 38 points and scored a career-high seven goals, including five on the power play • Appeared in 73 combined regular season appearances and racked up 86 PIM, both career-highs • Finished the campaign second among Tri-City defensemen in overall scoring… 2009-10: Posted his best season of junior hockey, setting career highs in assists (34), points (40) and plus/minus (plus-16) in 64 games for the Calgary Hitmen • Placed second among Calgary blueliners during the 2010 postseason with 16 points (6+10) after appearing in all 23 playoff games… 2008-09: Scored two of his three goals scored in special teams situations; one shorthanded and the other on a power-play… 2007-08: Finished rookie campaign with the Hitmen with eight points (2+6) • His plus-15 rating was the best among first-year defensemen.