Development key in unlocking Entwistle’s bright future

Photo: Todd Reicher

by Travis Hall | AHL On The Beat

The past week has been one that MacKenzie Entwistle will never forget.

The rookie netted his first professional goal and was named first star of the game on Oct. 30 after his multi-point effort helped the Rockford IceHogs down their divisional foe, the San Antonio Rampage.

In typical MacKenzie Entwistle fashion, though, his sentiment was that of appreciation for all those who helped him achieve the milestone.

“It’s obviously the result of a lot of hard work and dedication not only from me but from a lot of people: my teammates, my coaches, my parents and my family,” he said. “It was special to get that one.”

And it didn’t take the 20-year-old long to again etch his name on the scoresheet, as he found twine on Nov. 3 against the Chicago Wolves for his second marker in three games.

Entwistle credits the recent success to an ongoing growth in his confidence.

“Obviously it’s a big jump from juniors; you’re playing with bigger and stronger guys and everyone is really good at this level,” he said. “Once you kind of get used to the game and realize you don’t have three or four seconds with the puck and that you’re down to one or half a second — I’m starting to realize that and implement that in my game. I’m feeling a little stronger and more confident and comfortable out there.”

Entwistle points to his fellow members of the IceHogs as helping usher him into the professional ranks and helping him post four points in eight games since his debut in October.

“Kinger (head coach Derek King) has been really good, and then Highsy (Matthew Highmore), Steeger (Kris Versteeg) and Tyler Sikura have helped me and guided me through the first couple games here,” Entwistle said. “If there’s anything I need, they’re there. Just working on some video and seeing what things I can improve on the ice or even off the ice, so they’ve been awesome in helping me improve as a player.”

Versteeg, a two-time Stanley Cup champion, heard about Entwistle’s comments and provided his own take on just how much he thinks the Mississauga, Ontario, native is capable of.

“He’s a great player,” Versteeg said. “He’s smart, he’s lanky, he competes and he’s a player that, if he can figure out a couple things, could play in the NHL. So, I think he’s a guy that’s definitely on the rise, and he wants to be really good, which is exciting.”

Photo: Todd Reicher

Head coach King shared a similar sentiment when praising Entwistle, specifically in the rookie’s ability to exude maturity both on the ice and in the locker room.

“Off the ice, he’s got that leadership quality and he’s a character kid,” King said. “In the future, I think he’s a guy that will wear a letter whether it’s in the AHL or NHL. He’s a great kid who’s always motivated to get better. On the ice, he’s got great hands and his hockey sense is off the charts. We’ve been real happy with him because he does everything right. He doesn’t complain about things and he’s a pleasure to coach.”

What makes Entwistle’s leadership this season that much more compelling is that he provided it during an inauspicious start to the campaign. The IceHogs faced their fair share of adversity early on, dropping five of their first seven games, including back-to-back blowout losses to the Cleveland Monsters on Oct. 25 and 26. Since then, though, the club has won three straight and is looking to improve even further.

Entwistle reflected on the struggles the team faced and how they were able to turn the tide by sticking together. The former back-to-back Ontario Hockey League champion also noted the work is far from over in their pursuit of the AHL’s ultimate prize.

“It’s hockey and sometimes you’re going to have some stinkers. You’re going to have good weekends, you’re going to have bad weekends, you’re going to have good games and not so good games,” Entwistle said. “I think we’re one of the youngest teams in the AHL, so coming in together was a big jump for most of us. Now we’re getting used to each other and becoming more comfortable.

“The biggest thing is that we had a chat in the room and we were all saying the same thing. Guys like Steeger and Tyler, who have been around the league and know what it takes to win, were really vocal and helped us young guys out. I think we’re over that hump and we’re just looking forward to putting more wins together.”

As for the next step — reaching the next level in his career with the Chicago Blackhawks — the 2017 third-round draft choice stressed patience as his mantra for continuing his journey.

“I know I’ve got some work to do,” Entwistle admitted. “Every guy here wants to make the NHL and everyone is good enough to do that, it’s just a matter of what they want and what they need. For me, there’s no rush. I have to develop a little more and make my game more complete and be a little more comfortable playing at this pro level. But, I think over time that will come. It may not be tomorrow or the next day, but over time that’s my main goal.”

King, however, has no doubts that it’s only a matter of time for Entwistle.

“He’s got everything you want if you’re an NHL team looking at a player. He’ll probably tell you he has to work on his skating a little bit like most big guys, but he just has to hone everything. He’ll play at the NHL at some point.”