Chat wrap: Syracuse’s Derek MacKenzie

Syracuse Crunch forward Derek MacKenzie stepped into the AHL Chat Room on Tuesday, Feb. 16, to talk about the Mirabito Outdoor Classic and much more.

How do you think it will feel to play a hockey game outside? What do you think some of the main differences will be? – Bryce from Arlington Heights, Ill.
I think the obvious answer is that it’s probably going to be pretty cold out there. Some of the technical things might be a little different. There’s probably going to be a little glare, it might be a little bright the way the rink is set up. So that might be a disadvantage in one or two periods for one of the teams. And because it’s outside, the rink tends to feel a lot bigger than it is.

What is it about the Mirabito Outdoor Classic that you’re looking forward to the most, and why? – Bryce from Kenora, Ont.
Two things. I’m looking forward to the fact that a lot of other guys like myself have a lot of family and friends coming down, so it’s a good opportunity for us to see our families and for them to get a chance to see us play. And secondly, just to play a professional game in an outdoor atmosphere is going to be great. From what I hear, the fans are really excited, and it sounds like it’s going to be pretty electric at the Fairgrounds.

Did you ever have any experiences skating or playing hockey outside as a kid? – Tim from Worcester, Mass.
I never played in any official games, but I had about three outdoor rinks that were walking distance, and I can remember spending countless hours out there on those outdoor rinks. I always had a rink in my backyard as a kid, as well, so when I couldn’t get a game going at my house I usually went up the street to an outdoor rink to try and find one.

Do you think the team will have more momentum because of the big crowd expected on Saturday afternoon? – Kirstin from Syracuse, N.Y.
Yeah, I think so. I’ll be interested to see how many Binghamton fans show up with them being as close as they are. It’ll be interesting to see if we can hear the difference, but I think once guys kind of settle into the game, we’ll get used to it. I’m sure it’ll be pretty exciting and overwhelming to start, and hopefully we can kind of channel that and use it as momentum.

Have you guys tested the ice yet, and what do you think it will feel like on the ice during the actual game? – Brian from Montreal
We haven’t tested the ice yet. I’ve been there a few times to see them put up the boards and watch them start the process of making the ice. On Thursday morning, two days before the game, we’ll have our regularly scheduled practice on the outdoor rink.

On Saturday, I think it will have a lot to do with the weather. Based on the early forecasts we’ve been getting, it seems like the conditions should favor the ice. So I’m hoping there’s not too much of a difference.

What are some of your thoughts on Syracuse being the location for the AHL’s first-ever outdoor game? – Mike from Syracuse, N.Y.
Well I think it’s great. I know Syracuse had a couple different venues that this game could have been at, and I think the location that they picked is actually one of the better locations from a fan’s perspective to view the game. The grandstand is huge, but it’s kind of high and narrow as opposed to some of the big baseball stadiums that (the NHL) has played in before.

I know this game was a thought that they had a few years ago here, and for it to actually turn into having the first one here in Syracuse, I know it’s exciting for them but it’s been a ton of work.

The Onondaga County War Memorial rakes in some interesting comments from opposing teams, fans, and media… In your mind, what are some of the positive elements of the building? – Mike from Syracuse, N.Y.
Well, you go around the league and see some of the buildings that draw on average better than our rink, but I think with the amount of fans we get, they fill and it creates a good atmosphere on Saturday nights and other nights where the place is filled. It sends off some good energy, and it’s certainly nice to know that the people in Syracuse like to come out and fill the arena.

Being an older arena, there are certainly some negatives to it, but it seems like the colder it is outside, the better the ice is inside. And based on the climate in Syracuse, the ice throughout the year is normally in good shape.

With it being a kind of smaller building, too, it seems like the fans are right on top of you, which I would assume for the opposing team is not a positive thing.

What was it like playing major junior hockey in your hometown of Sudbury? – Bryce from Kenora, Ont.
It was great. I got to spend four years there, and I never had to move away. I had a great supporting cast of family and friends there, and I don’t think many of them missed more than a couple games every years. Not to mention the fact that during my time there, we didn’t have a team that went deep in the layoffs, but we made the playoffs every year and were able to make a push at some point.

It was something that was a little nerve-wracking as a 16-year-old, you know, you’re not sure which way your career is going to go at the time. But looking back on it, the city of Sudbury and the owners there couldn’t have treated me any better.

Describe what it was like to spend most of your first six professional seasons with the Chicago Wolves and be part of some successful teams there. – Kevin from Glenview, Ill.
I just tried to make the most of my time there knowing that it’s very rare in an organization where every year you have a chance to championship, and that’s how they picked and geared their teams. That was exciting.

And now seeing John Anderson in the NHL after having him as a coach all six years I was there, it was a learning experience. I took a lot away from those six years. Having Kevin Cheveldayoff as your general manager and Don Levin as the owner, you can’t really put together a better team or support staff, and they had that when I was there.

And the fans were great, they supported us all year. They really got behind us as the playoff push went on, and I can remember being at that rink when it was virtually sold out – 18,000 people – during the Calder Cup Finals in overtime. It doesn’t get much better than that.

If you had to try and pick one, what would you say has been your favorite hockey season thus far? – Bryce from Kenora, Ont.
Obviously for one I would say my first year. Being a rookie, just absorbing everything and everything being a new experience. As a rookie, sometimes it can be difficult, you’re also very green and just excited to be there, and to cap it off with a Calder Cup championship, it was pretty much everything you could ask for in a first year.

And moving forward, I would say probably a few years ago. I didn’t get an opportunity to play, but I was with the team for the last couple months of the push when I was in Atlanta, and it was the first time they made the playoffs. Although I didn’t end up playing in any of the games, just being there when we were playing the Rangers (in the playoffs), and being a part of that team (was great). Since I had been there since their inaugural season, it was a pretty exciting time for that organization.

Do you try and model your game after any particular current or former play. If so, who and why? – Kevin from Boston, Mass.
I really haven’t thought too much about it, not since I turned pro. Obviously when you’re a kid, you have your favorites. I think for me, Steve Yzerman was probably my favorite player. I know it’s pretty easy to pick him with the Stanley Cups and how successful he was.

I don’t think there are too many parts of my game that will remind anyone of Steve Yzerman, but if I could be like someone, I think he’d be a pretty good guy to be like.

While being called up to Columbus, have you made any good friends? Who has been there to help you along in the dressing room, etc.? – Bryce from Kenora, Ont.
Well I’d say the guys that I get along best with are probably guys that I played with in Syracuse, or played some time with in Syracuse. And most of those guys happen to be a little younger than me, but the Marc Methots and Kris Russells are kind of the guys that I hang around a lot with up there.

And a guy that I used to play against a lot in the OHL and we got a chance to play together internationally in a couple championships was Raffi Torres, and I get along really well with him.

Can you walk us through the NHL goal that you scored for Columbus this season? – Bryce from Kenora, Ont.
We were in New York, and our line was having a pretty good first period. It was just one of those things – it was me, Jared Boll and Raffi Torres. They made a couple good plays to dump it in, we got the puck back, and one of the two of them – I think Torres – kind of pushed it out in front to me. I can’t take any credit for saying I purposefully aimed to put it in the left corner, but it was just one of those reaction plays where I saw the puck pop loose, I shot it, and it was great. It was a great first period for us – I think our line put us up 2-0 that night.

Where are some of your favorite cities in the AHL to play an away game, and why? – George from Utica, N.Y.
I’ll pick Chicago as one of them just because over the years I made some friends and have some ex-teammates that have retired and decided to stay in that area. So when I get to go back there, it’s nice to catch up with them.

And anytime we can go from Syracuse to somewhere hot like Houston or San Antonio, it’s definitely a nice change to get down to one of those places.

What are some things you like to do in your free time or in the offseason, when you’re not playing hockey? – Jared from Oxford, Mass.
My favorite thing to do in my spare time back home is to fish. Anytime I get a chance, rain or shine, I like to get out there and do some fishing. I recently had a baby girl who’s almost 10 months old now. Until she’s old enough, I’ve spent a little more time with the boat on the dock just hanging out with her, but I’m looking forward when she’s old enough in a year or two to take her out and do some fishing with her.