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  • McKenzie not just a TV name anymore Print
    Features
    Written by Dan Marrazza   
    Sunday, 28 October 2012 01:23

    The name McKenzie is one that most, if not all, hockey fans know thanks to TSN analyst Bob McKenzie. His son, Mike, is slowly gaining traction as a coach and, despite his young age, already looks to have a promising career ahead of him in the field.

    In hockey, “McKenzie” is one of the most identifiable names associated with the media that covers the sport.

    After all, hardly a hockey fan in either the United States or Canada can grow up without seeing Bob McKenzie’s work on TV, in print or on social media, considering he’s had an unmatched knack of breaking major unfolding NHL news stories since he first joined TSN in 1986.

    However, 1986 was also the year that Bob’s oldest son, Mike, was born. And while Mike McKenzie’s name might not be as well-known as his father’s yet, he has become an interesting case in himself.

    A career AHL and ECHL checking forward, Mike McKenzie hung up his skates last spring to become an assistant coach with the Ontario Hockey League’s Kitchener Rangers, despite still just being only 26-years-old.

    For NHL fans only slightly familiar with the circuit of Canadian junior hockey teams, the Kitchener Rangers are one of the more elite organizations to be part of, too. In fact, the Rangers’ elite status is obvious with just one quick stroll through the team’s home rink, the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium Complex, where the team’s retired numbers include the likes of Hockey Hall of Famers Al MacInnis, Scott Stevens, Paul Coffey, Larry Robinson and Bill Barber, with recent graduates including Gabriel Landeskog, Mike Richards and Jeff Skinner.

    Furthermore, Mike McKenzie is such a unique fit in the junior hockey haven of Kitchener because besides being the son of one of the most recognizable figures in hockey media, he never even played major junior hockey himself. McKenzie’s personal ticket to playing professionally, including stints with the Albany River Rats (AHL), Charlotte Checkers (AHL), Houston Aeros (AHL), Florida Everblades (ECHL) and Ontario Reign (ECHL), was punched after playing four collegiate seasons with St. Lawrence University in the ECAC.

    “The mentality is completely different in college versus juniors,” said McKenzie. “In college, you’re considered a student-athlete. Although we also take school seriouslyRadek Faksa here in Kitchener, it’s more of a pro mentality here. All the kids we have are here because they’re trying to be professional hockey players, and we’re trying to help them do that.”

    In terms of how McKenzie can help some of the players on Kitchener’s current squad, including former first-round draft picks Radek Faksa (2012/Dallas) and Matt Puempel (2011/Ottawa), his niche seems to be his somewhat untraditional status of being much closer to the players’ ages than the team’s other coaches, while still having the experience to provide valuable insight.

    “The fact that I played the game so recently, I think I can relate to the players,” said McKenzie. “When the players know I played the game so recently, I think it makes it easier for them to approach me with a question.”

    However, McKenzie has the chance to be more than just a big brother for Kitchener’s players. As a matter of fact, his career is taking an eerily similar resemblance to that of the team’s current head coach and general manager, Steve Spott.

    Spott, 44, is a former collegiate player in the ECAC at Colgate University who never played major junior hockey either, whose professional playing career ended just before his 23rd birthday following short stints in the AHL and ECHL.

    Spott got his introduction to coaching in major junior hockey when he became an assistant coach for the OHL’s Plymouth Whalers prior to the 1997-98 season at age 29, just three years older than McKenzie currently is as a first-year assistant coach in the OHL with Kitchener.

    Overall, Spott served as an OHL assistant coach for four seasons with Plymouth and five seasons with Kitchener—all serving under his close friend Peter DeBoer—before being named head coach of the Rangers when Peter DeBoer left junior hockey to become the head coach of the Florida Panthers before the 2008-09 season.

    “I was lucky enough to get the chance to meet with Steve Spott last spring, when the Rangers were still in the midst of their playoff run,” said McKenzie. “He’s been in the game for such a long time, that even though I’m also a coach, I just try to soak up everything he teaches as much as I can for myself.”

    In addition to the chance to develop his coaching career under the guidance of a highly experienced junior coach who once took a similar career path as himself, McKenzie also has one other very obvious resource at his disposal—his father.

    “My father and I talk about hockey every day,” said McKenzie. “It’s always been like that, since I was young. We’ve always talked about my hockey, NHL hockey and all kinds of hockey. He’s taught me almost everything I know about the game, so it’s not just entirely that he’s an analyst and I’m a coach, because he coached me my whole life.”

    With his numerous influences, McKenzie, as a 26-year-old, recently retired, former collegiate player turned junior assistant coach whose father is the most recognizable face in hockey media, is one of the more interesting studies in hockey today.

    And if he ever advances to coaching at the NHL level, at least we all won’t be left scratching our heads again as to how Bob McKenzie broke another story.

    In the meantime, to try to get the jump on Bob McKenzie regarding his son’s coaching career, you can follow Mike McKenzie on Twitter at @MikeMcKenzie11.
     
    Photos by Getty Images







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    Last Updated on Sunday, 28 October 2012 01:49