Technically, Mackenzie Skapski didn’t actually hear his name called in the NHL entry draft, but that didn’t make the moment any less special.
The 19-year-old goalie was faithfully watching Sunday’s draft proceedings, held at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., on television back home in Abbotsford with a crowd of family and friends.
But when it came time for the New York Rangers’ sixth-round pick, 170th overall, TSN cut to commercial.
“Then my dad got a text from somebody, and I got three or four texts,” Skapski said with a chuckle, recounting how he found out he was headed to the Big Apple. “Everyone here kind of just exploded. I’m still kind of in shock, and I really don’t know what to think right now.
“We’re just soaking in the moment.”
It was an incredibly rewarding turn of events for a goalie who has had to wade through more than his share of adversity already in his career.
On Dec. 11, 2009, Skapski was on the bus with the Fraser Valley Bruins major midget squad when the vehicle hit some black ice just south of Williams Lake, skidded off the highway and landed on its side.
Skapski suffered the most serious injuries of anyone on the team – he sustained a broken nose and a fractured orbital bone, and had surgery to place a couple of plates in his cheek and to remove a blood clot beside his brain. During his convalescence, he lost 30 pounds, dropping from 155 to 125.
But he battled back, and earned a roster spot with the WHL’s Kootenay Ice in 2011-12, backing up fellow Abbotsford native Nathan Lieuwen.
Skapski got into just 19 games, though, and was passed over in the 2012 NHL draft, his first year of eligibility.
“It’s kind of heartbreaking at first,” he said of going unselected. “A lot of adversity is thrown at you, and it’s a matter of how you deal with it.”
Lieuwen’s graduation from the junior ranks opened the door for Skapski to take the No. 1 job in Kootenay this past season, and he took full advantage. He backstopped a mediocre Ice squad to the playoffs, posting a 34-25-1 record to go with a 2.78 goals against average and a .910 save percentage. His seven shutouts tied for the most in the WHL.
That got Skapski on Hockey Canada’s radar – he was invited to the organization’s summer goalie camp earlier this month in Calgary, which means he’s in the hunt for a roster spot for the World Junior Championship.
“Walking in, I didn’t have the resumé other guys did,” he said. “But I felt like I really solidified myself and put myself on the map.”
Soon after he was drafted, Skapski was on the phone with the Rangers brass, and he’ll hop a flight to New York within the next 24 hours to join the team’s other draftees in being introduced to the organization.
“We’ll take in July 4 (celebrations), a Yankees game, and Times Square,” he said, adding that they’ll also tour Madison Square Garden, the legendary home arena of the Rangers and NBA’s New York Knicks.
“I’m thrilled, really thrilled,” he added. “The spotlight’s on there (in New York), and I love performing under the spotlight.”
Skapski, a product of the Abbotsford Hockey Association and the Yale Hockey Academy, comes from a true hockey clan. Brother Mitchell, a 17-year-old forward, recently completed his rookie season with the WHL’s Everett Silvertips, while Marshall, a defenceman, was picked by the Medicine Hat Tigers in the WHL bantam draft in May.
Father Denis, a gritty blueliner, blazed the trail – he played two seasons of NCAA hockey at the University of Alabama-Huntsville and then played briefly in the ECHL with the Columbus Chill and the Roanoke Valley Rampage.
“I think we all take a little bit from my dad in different ways – I’m obviously not the fighter,” Mackenzie said with a chuckle, alluding to the 174 penalty minutes his dad racked up in 1986-87 with the BCJHL’s Delta Flyers.
“One trait that my dad really possesses, not only in hockey, is his work ethic and competitiveness. If you ask anybody, that’s probably our biggest ability – our competitiveness, being able to compete against other guys and beat them out for a spot. That kind of runs through all of us.”