When Curtis McKenzie got a phone call from Dallas Stars head coach Lindy Ruff last week, he was left speechless.
The call being one every pro hockey player dreams of, to tell McKenzie that he would be suiting up for his first NHL game, Oct. 18 against the Philadelphia Flyers.
“I think I was a bit speechless at first. I don’t even know what I said back to him I was so excited,” McKenzie recalled.
McKenzie had been called up to the Stars early last week as a result of an injury to forward Valeri Nichushkin, but was a scratch for Dallas’ games against the Blue Jackets and Penguins before getting the call against Philadelphia.
Naturally, McKenzie says he felt pretty nervous during the game, which he played in front of friends and family who made the last-minute trip south to Dallas.
“I was probably a little nervous during the game, a little jumpy. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t,” he said.
McKenzie was in the lineup for several of the Stars’ pre-season games and was one of the team’s final cuts at the end of training camp. He says that experience prepared him well for the real thing.
A friendly initiation at the hands of his veteran teammates also helped him calm his nerves during the pre-game skate.
“We were going out for pre-game warmups and (Trevor) Daley took my helmet off and said I’ve got to start updating my profile pictures without a helmet. So we went out and the guys said that I might as well lead them out for pre-game warmups…I go flying out on the ice and the rest of the team just stopped. I was stuck out there for two laps by myself,” he said, laughing. “It took a lot of the pressure and nerves away from me and kept me loose.”
“They got me pretty good.”
When the night was through, McKenzie had seen just under 12 minutes of ice time across 18 shifts while posting a shot on goal, two takeaways and four hits, which led the team. It was a strong debut in what was ultimately a losing cause, as the Stars lost 6-5 in overtime.
“I wasn’t really sure what to expect going into the game,” he said. “I got a lot more ice than I thought, it was tough losing the game but other than that it was a pretty good experience.”
As is the case with most players as they are breaking into the league, McKenzie’s playing situation is a fluid one and he isn’t sure how long his stay in Dallas will last.