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Comet Tales: Matt MacKenzie

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Don LaibleAmerks defenseman Matt MacKenzie wants to play against the Utica Comets on Friday – but can’t. As for Saturday’s contest at The AUD, the third-year pro from New Westminster, BC will be ready to skate.

A week ago, on February 7, during Rochester’s 4-1 win over the Hershey Bears at The Blue Cross Arena, MacKenzie was hit with a game misconduct penalty in the final five minutes. Because of the AHL rule that any player receiving a game misconduct in the final five minutes is suspended for one game, MacKenzie will be scouting the Comets from the press box on Friday.

Listening to the Buffalo Sabres third round draft pick in 2010 speak, you wouldn’t guess that in 39 games skated this season he’s collected 60 penalty minutes. This being MacKenzie’s first full season on the AHL level, after splitting his first two in the ECHL with Greenville and Gwinett, he tells of being confident for playing time at the next level – NHL.

“I’m here to help Rochester win games. I try not to think about it (waiting for the call to Buffalo) too much,” says MacKenzie, who has five points tallied this season. “All I can do is take care of my game down here and wait.”

With the all-star break concluding on Thursday, MacKenzie is just like so many on AHL rosters, returning from much needed rest and relaxation. During our conversation on Thursday, after a late practice, MacKenzie sounds poised for the pending playoff sprint. “I had a good break. I went back home to Calgary for a few days,” MacKenzie tells. “I had an early flight on Sunday. Similar to what we are experiencing here, there was a lot of snow back home and it was very cold; typical winter. It was good to be with family and friends.”

Although MacKenzie grew up in Canada’s pacific northwest, in the shadow’s of Vancouver and being a Canucks fan, Calgary holds many special memories. The four season spent playing for the WHL’s Calgary Hitmen prepared MacKenzie for the 80 games thus far in Rochester line-ups.
An added perk skating for the Hitmen was meeting up-close the person whom the team is named after – WWE Hall of Famer Bret “The Hitman” Hart. “He (Hart) would come in our dressing room and give us speeches and pep talks. They were always exciting,” MacKenzie recalls. “I remember him being there when we won the league championship (WHL) and played for the Memorial Cup.”

Confessing to still being a Canucks fan, MacKenzie finds it cool to play against the Comets, guys who potentially will be playing for Vancouver.
There are two special times this season that stand above others for MacKenzie. In being on the Rochester roster this season for MacKenzie and teammates, this past December meant playing in Switzerland. The Amerks participated in the Spengler Cup Tournament, hosted by Swiss team HC Davos. “We thought it was going to happen last season (going to Switzerland). Davos is one of my favorite places to have visited. They have hockey crazed fans,” MacKenzie states. “We had two days off until our flight home, and saw the Alps, some guys went tobogganing, and visited some really cool shops.”

But before jetting to Europe, MacKenzie was blown away to participate in the December 13 outdoor game at Rochester’s Frontier Field. “The game was awesome. During my last year in juniors I was traded and missed out on playing an outdoor game,” MacKenzie explains. “I was pumped for our game with Lake Erie. The big crowd (11,015), anD intense game with our rival Lake Erie, and we won, everything about it was cool.”

Having fun at doing what he’s wanted to since a child, committed to his Rochester teammates and dreaming of suiting up in Sabres blue and gold, Matt MacKenzie is as focused a hockey player as any in the game today.