A dream first season of professional hockey ended in style Tuesday night for Golden’s Curtis McKenzie when his Texas Stars beat the St. John’s Ice Caps in overtime to claim the AHL’s Calder Cup.
“It’s been pretty surreal,” he said about the championship. “We’ve had the trophy out and around with us. It’s been a fun time. There is no better feeling than winning.”
The local product has experienced his fair share of team success over the course of his young career, including a Central Collegiate Hockey Association championship just last year as a member of the Miami RedHawks of the NCAA. Still, there’s no doubt where this victory ranks for McKenzie early in his career.
“This tops it off for sure, I think just because of how long and how hard it was to win,” he said.
McKenzie, who also took home AHL Rookie of the Year honours in April, believes the experience he gained over the lengthy 21-game playoff run will prove to be invaluable for his career going forward.
“It was a great time to do that as a rookie and be in a playoff run like that,” he said. “You learn a lot in a playoff run. It’s a whole new type of hockey compared to the regular season…Playoff hockey is a physical, mental and emotional grind the whole way through.”
The end of season totals are very impressive for the 23 year-old. McKenzie’s 65 points lead all rookies during the regular season and he topped that off with three goals and 11 assists to finish in an eight-way tie for 8th in the league in playoff scoring.
A big part of McKenzie’s development this year has been a result of the tutelage he has received from head coach Willie Desjardins, who has recently been linked to a number of NHL coaching vacancies.
“I think he’s probably the best thing that could have happened to me,” McKenzie said. “He was great for me and developing me. There were times where he had to push me a little more or take a little off me and just find ways to give me confidence.”
Due to the Stars’ deep run in this spring’s playoffs, it will be a short off-season for McKenzie this year. He’ll be flying home to Golden for a few days to relax before spending most of his offseason in Calgary and Vancouver, where he will train with Dallas Stars personnel to get ready for training camp. Training camp will open in early September and McKenzie’s goals for next year remain clear – to make it to the NHL.
Until then, he’ll have time to train (he is aiming to improve his skating over the summer break) and reflect on what was an incredible rookie campaign.
“It was a dream season for sure. I never thought all of this would happen to me in one season…It was a fun year and a year I’ll never forget.”
Topping the season he had in 2013-2014 will be no easy task, but for McKenzie, leaving camp as a member of the Dallas Stars wouldn’t be a bad way to start.