Signing his first pro hockey contract with the New York Rangers prompted Mackenzie Skapski to reflect on a long-running conversation he’s been having with his mom since he was a little boy.
Every so often, Traci Skapski would ask Mackenzie what his backup plan was if playing hockey for a living didn’t pan out. It was a worthwhile point to ponder, given the fact that thousands of kids in Canada and around the world aspire to play the game professionally, but only a minuscule fraction of those ever realize that dream.
In his younger years, Mackenzie would reply that he wanted to be an architect; more recently, his Plan B was to be a hockey player agent.
The 20-year-old goalie from Abbotsford will put those backup plans on the shelf, at least for the next three years, after inking an entry-level pact with the Rangers earlier this month.
But he’s grateful for those chats with his mom, because they’ve given him a greater appreciation for his first contract. Indeed, the occasion inspired an outpouring of gratitude in Skapski for all of his family members – parents, brothers, uncle and grandparents – who have played a key role in getting him to this point.
“My family has been my ultimate backbone and are the biggest difference maker for my opportunity I have today,” he said.
“You grow up dreaming of eventually playing pro hockey and playing in the NHL, and the likelihood, in reality, is not very high. When it actually happens, you don’t really believe it at first. Then you sit back a couple weeks later and you really appreciate what you’ve done.”
Skapski, a two-year starter with the Kootenay Ice of the Western Hockey League, is coming off a solid 2013-14 campaign which saw him post a 28-20-4 record with a 2.70 goals against average and a .916 save percentage. The Rangers picked him in the sixth round of last summer’s NHL entry draft.
He’s got one more year of WHL eligibility remaining, but the Rangers have expressed to him that they plan to turn him pro this coming season, with the Hartford Wolf Pack (AHL) and the Greenville Road Warriors (ECHL) among his possible destinations.
Skapski’s signing came during the Stanley Cup Finals, which saw the Rangers battling the Los Angeles Kings before ultimately succumbing in five games.
“I think that kind of added to it,” he said. “It was really exciting having your team in a deep playoff run.
“That’s your next dream after signing a contract – winning a Stanley Cup.”
TOEWS WORKS OUT FOR BLACKHAWKS
Another Abbotsford prospect, defenceman Devon Toews, is taking his third and final spin through the NHL entry draft this week after going unselected in 2012 and 2013.
But even if the 20-year-old doesn’t hear his name called in the 2014 talent lottery, which runs this Friday and Saturday in Philadelphia, the interest he’s garnered recently is an encouraging indicator that he may have a future in pro hockey.
The skilled rearguard, coming off a terrific freshman season with the NCAA’s Quinnipiac Bobcats, participated in a Chicago Blackhawks prospects combine earlier this month.
“I got to see what the organization’s like, and meet their key people – their GM and scouts,” Toews said of the event in Chicago, which included fitness testing and two on-ice sessions. “I thought I did pretty well.
“I’ve talked to a good amount of teams going into (the draft). It’s a week away, and it’s an exciting time. I’ve been passed up the last two years, and if I get passed up again, I’ve just got to keep proving people wrong. That’s fine with me.”
Toews – no relation to Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews – helped the Surrey Eagles to B.C. Hockey League and Western Canada Cup victories in 2013, and was named best defenceman at the RBC Cup, the national junior A championship tourney.
This past season at Hamden, Conn.-based Quinnipiac, he posted 17 points (second-best on the team among defenceman) in 37 games to go with a +9 rating.
“It was awesome – I love college hockey,” Toews said, reflecting on his NCAA debut. “It was a cool experience to be able to play at a higher level and a higher pace with more physicality and older guys. It was a good testament to my skill.”