After getting a brief taste of professional hockey, Mackenzie Skapski knows what it’s going to take to make that next step.
The Kootenay Ice goaltender recently returned from a rookie camp with the New York Rangers, where he suited up for a pair of games in an NHL prospects tournament in Traverse City, in Michigan.
“Loved it,” said Skapski. “It was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had in hockey and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
“It was definitely tough and I felt definitely one of the younger guys out there and I didn’t really feel like I was at the 25-year-old or 24-year-old level, but it was really good, just another thing to add under my belt.”
The Ice stopper got in two games out of four with the Blushirts; a 4-3 loss against the Carolina Hurricanes and a 4-2 loss against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
He turned away 21 shots against the ‘Canes and 31 against the Blue Jackets.
The prospects tournament is billed as a rookie event, however, it features players that have a bit of pro experience, or are looking to jump right into the pro ranks.
Skapski said he used the tournament as a way to see what it takes to be in game shape at that level, referencing the struggles that the Kootenay Ice prospects went through at the Tri-City Americans event.
“You just saw these guys go through Tri-Cities, and they’re just getting into game shape and kind of mid-season form,” said Skapski, “and that’s exactly what I was doing in Traverse City and I want to get in mid-season form early on and really take off.”
Skapski was picked up in the sixth round of the NHL Draft last June by the Rangers, and trekked out a day afterwards for a rookie development camp.
Despite some struggles early in the season last year, the Ice netminder seemed unbeatable in the second half, helping the team climb out of the WHL basement and into a playoff spot.
Mike Bergren, the goaltending coach for the club, signed on in November of last year and has worked at exploiting Skapski’s strengths and improving other areas of his game.
With Bergren at his side in the WHL, Skapski also got the chance to work with Benoit Allaire, the goaltending coach for the Rangers, while at the summer camp and the Traverse City prospects tournament.
“He’s really good,” said Skapski, of working with Allaire. “He knows his goaltending and [I’m] just taking bits and pieces from him and applying it to my game.”
Bergren has had limited contact with New York’s goaltending guru, but adds that it always helps to hear what other coaches have to say, especially from someone with Allaire’s background.
“He [Allaire] has relayed some information to me about what he’s looking for in certain situations, and some of it mirrors what we’ve done already and some of it’s a little bit different,” said Bergren, “and that’s good, because the feedback that I get from that, tells me that what we’ve done so far is good, now there’s some more things that we can work on.”
“…That’s a guy who’s got an excellent reputation in the NHL and he’s done nothing but pump out Vezina winners, so it’s pretty hard to look at that and not be influenced by that at all.”
While prospect Jayden Sittler and Wyatt Hoflin battle for a chance to get some ice time in the preseason, Skapski knows the Rangers will be watching from afar once the regular season gets going.
“There’s something in front of me that I can potentially look forward to and my success with the Kootenay Ice will determine that,” Skapski said.