I recently interviewed 16-year old Ottawa 67’s rookie goaltender Collin MacKenzie, and was immediately struck by two things – he’s unflappable. and he has a great sense of humour. I know this because the first question I asked him was what he was wearing on this head. I could tell he thought it was a strange question with which to start an interview (and it was), but he rolled with it and threw the question right back at me asking, “you mean now, or on the ice?”
When I told him I asked because he was caught on camera doing interviews several times wearing a yellow bucket on his head after being doused with water by his Waterloo Wolves teammates in the U-16 Alliance League, he chuckled and replied, “I’m still waiting for that one here in Ottawa. Maybe I’ll be wearing a red bucket this time.”
MacKenzie’s Road to the Ottawa 67’s
MacKenzie was drafted by the 67’s in 2020 but didn’t play hockey for almost two seasons because of the Covid-19 pandemic, which shut down the Ontario Hockey League (OHL). Still, that didn’t stop the young Elmira, Ontario native from playing his way onto the Barber Poles’ roster during training camp this fall.
When I asked him whether he was surprised he made the team he said, “to be honest, going into camp I didn’t know if they were going to sign me or what they were planning to do with me.” Yet, instead of stewing over this uncertainty, he came to Ottawa early and trained with starting goaltender (and St. Louis Blues’ 2020 sixth-round draft pick) Will Cranley, and the 67’s goalie coach Andrew Mercer.
MacKenzie said training with Mercer and Cranley gave him a “confidence that just carried on into camp. I just went out there and I had fun and just tried to play my game and do what I do and it ended up working out for me.”
Mitch Hoelscher also figured in MacKenzie’s journey to the Barber Poles’ roster. Also, an Elmira native who played with the Waterloo Wolves U-16 team, the former 67’s star and now Belleville Senator in the American Hockey League (AHL) contacted MacKenzie upon hearing he had been drafted by Ottawa. They trained together in the summers of 2020 and 2021. MacKenzie is grateful for Hoelscher’s help explaining, “he really prepared me for coming to Ottawa, and he’s just a great person, probably one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet.”
The young puck stopper vividly remembers the day he was told he would be staying in Ottawa recalling that, “when 67’s general manager James Boyd told me they wanted to sign me, I instantly had the biggest smile on my face. I couldn’t hold it back. I don’t think it’s left me since. I definitely won’t be forgetting that one any time soon”.
MacKenzie Grateful for Help Along the Way to OHL
Nor does it seem that he forgets who helped make that day possible. His first phone call to announce he had signed with the 67’s was to one of his minor midget coaches with whom he speaks daily, even now.
While quick to acknowledge the help in getting to Ottawa that friends and former teammates gave him, MacKenzie seems the most grateful for his parents’ support. He said, “growing up, they always gave me what I needed, always drove me to the rink, and gave me all the right equipment.”
Even so, he seems to possess a wisdom beyond his years, understanding that those things were never as important as the emotional support and guidance that his parents provided. Of that, he says, “even now my parents will tell me just go out there and have fun and try your best. Hearing that from them fit me and helped me play my best. Just not worrying about it (results) too much. Just going out there and remembering it’s just a game.”
MacKenzie – The Right Stuff in the 67’s Goal
Asked when he first realized he had a special talent in goal, he said that happened in his OHL draft year while playing for the Wolves. He explained, “that’s when I really started to feel that I can go somewhere with hockey. At that point I started really working hard to focus on doing the right things, the little detail and focusing hard on getting better every day.”
Discussing what the 67’s see in MacKenzie, Boyd said “he is a very athletic goaltender, who reads the play very well, and demonstrates great patience on the ice. We were very impressed with his dedication, evidenced by his level of physical fitness, and excellent performance in training camp.” Still, MacKenzie understands he needs to ratchet up the level of his game to succeed in the OHL.
Asked what the biggest difference is between U-16 AAA and the OHL he said, “probably just the overall speed of the game. It’s definitely a quicker pace and I’m still adjusting to it a little bit especially since I’ve had two years of no hockey.”
MacKenzie and the Pressure of OHL Hockey
For many OHL rookies, adjusting to the league is a pressure that can be tough to handle. Yet MacKenzie seems to thrive on pressure. That was obvious when the team was being pummeled by the Kingston Frontenacs in their first game of the season and Cranley was pulled in favour of MacKenzie.
When I asked him to tell me what it felt like coming off the bench to defend the net in his first OHL game under those circumstances he said, “before the game I didn’t expect that to happen, but I had so much fun out there. It just felt so cool to think I’m in the OHL and I’m playing a game. I won’t forget that’s the way I came into my first game.”
MacKenzie admits that “every now and then I’ll get butterflies in my stomach, but I think I stay pretty loose and I just have fun”. He says he likes to deal with pressure by dancing to high energy music in the dressing room before game time. Although he claims he’s not a very good dancer, I suspect he likes to keep all of his slick moves for the ice.”
A self-admitted livewire, MacKenzie enjoys playing in front of crowds. He says, “I definitely draw off the energy of the crowd. I love hearing them cheer super loud and all the little kids chanting your name. It definitely builds my confidence.”
MacKenzie says he was drawn to play between the pipes from the very beginning explaining, “it just came naturally me”. His parents often recall his obsession with collecting NHL goalie player cards even before he could talk. He says, “I always thought they (goalies) looked cool and I guess I wanted to be one. So I tried it out and it stuck.”
Asked what he thought being a goaltender says about him, it is clear MacKenzie feels very comfortable in his own skin. He laughed and replied, “I’d say it definitely fits me. I’m pretty ‘out there’. I’m not a shy person. I enjoy being myself and having fun and I think that fits the personality of a goaltender.”
Collin MacKenzie Trivia
Favourite NHL Goalie – “It has to be Carey Price, but when I was younger I used to like Marc-Andre Fleury, so its gotta be a mix between those two. I relate my game to both of them in different ways.”
What Other Sport He’d Play if Not Hockey – “I’d say it would be baseball. I grew up playing pretty high-level baseball, probably at a higher level than hockey. When I was 13 or 14-years old, I wanted to choose one sport to focus on and I chose hockey because I love it so much more. Hockey just fits more the Canadian energy vibe. It was always in my blood.”
Life After Hockey – “I want to stay within the hockey or the sports area. I was thinking about opening up a sports store at some point when I’m older. I don’t have the blue-print yet because I’m just focussing on playing hockey, but I think a sports store would be pretty cool.”
The Importance of Playing Other Sports– “Personally I think kids should be playing as many sports as they can or want to. It’s important to mix it up and take your mind off certain things with other sports. It’s just fun to mix it up every now and then.”
What He’s Watching on Netflix – “There’s not much time right now to watch TV, but I just started watching Squid Game.”
Favourite Music – “Nothing in particular, but something that will get me moving. I like dancing quite a bit in the room before a game. I can’t say I’m very good at it, but I like doing it because it keeps me loose.”
What He Eats that That His Trainer Say He Shouldn’t – “Probably Sausage Farmer’s Wraps from Tim Horton’s. I don’t know how nutritious they are. I don’t know if our Trainer “Younger” (Sean Young, Strength and Conditioning Coach) would like to hear that. And I also love St. Louis chicken wings. They’re my all-time favourite food. I could eat them any day.”
A Typical Day for MacKenzie – “I like to wake up a little earlier before we head to the rink so I wake up around six o’clock and then we get back (home) around six after our day of ice-time, school and training. So it’s a long day, but when you’re with your buddies the time flies by and it’s a lot of fun.”
Colin MacKenzie – A Young Talent to Watch in 2021-22
Against most expectations, except possibly his own, MacKenzie beat out more seasoned talent for a spot on the 67’s roster this year. So far this season he has played in four games winning all three matches in which he was tapped to start.
As just one of five rookie goaltenders in the league this year, he has put up very respectable statistics which he is certain to build on as the season progresses. At just 16 he is sure to be dancing his way into the hearts of 67’s fans with his big personality and athleticism between the pipes.
Paul covers the Calgary Flames, the Ottawa Senators and the OHL’s Ottawa 67s for The Hockey Writers (THW). He also hosts the Flames Faceoff show for THW’s Podcast Network.
Paul has been sought for media interviews for the thoughtful pieces he has written on hockey’s response to the major social and political issues of the day including the place of gay players in the game. Paul is also known for his interesting perspectives on the key issues and challenges facing the teams he follows.
Of his work with THW, Paul says, “I love to tell stories about the game of hockey and the personalities – both past and present, who have made it the greatest game on the planet!”
Follow him on Twitter at @pquinney