by Dan Warner || AHL On The Beat Archive
On any given night when someone comes to a Portland Pirates game, they may see a white jersey with the number 31 carefully stitched on the arms and back of the sweater.
The man in this jersey has been strong in goal for Portland, and has been all season. While one may be able to find out what his name is by looking in the program, or find out some information about him by reading his biography, it still leaves people wondering, who is this man behind the mask?
While the Portland Pirates roster has been transformed by many changes this season, one thing that has stayed the same is goaltender Mike McKenna. Consistently being ranked among the top goalies in the AHL this season and leading the team in victories with 23, McKenna has not just been great on the ice; he has also been a great player off the ice as well. He is respected by players, coaches, and fans alike, and has been a huge addition to this year’s club.
Prior to this season, McKenna had played two seasons in the ECHL for the Las Vegas Wranglers, where he established himself as one of the league’s best goaltenders. While he enjoyed his time in Vegas, and especially enjoyed a couple of special moments that he experienced — he was named ECHL goalie of the week many times — those awards were not his most memorable moments.
“Really the biggest thing I was proud of accomplishing last year was making the Second [All-Star] Team in that league and being named runner-up in the MVP voting, that meant a lot to me,” McKenna said. “Going to the ECHL All-Star game both years was pretty cool because I had never been involved in any of those.”
In his first full season in the AHL and first in Portland, Mike is really enjoying his time in the Pine Tree state.
“I’ve really gotten a chance to play,” he said. “Thankfully, I’ve gotten a lot of games and our team’s been winning.”
McKenna has really taken to the Portland community. He is enjoying all of the work that the team is able to give to the community. McKenna’s face is prominent in the Pirates’ contributions to the community, and he has really become attached to one charity in particular.
“I’ve really taken to the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital,” he said. “Going there and talking to the kids is really fun.”
On Saturday, Jan. 26, the Pirates hosted a “Salute to Motorsports” evening. Those close to McKenna know that he is a huge motorsports fan, and so he was compelled to do something special.
“Throughout the year I’ve just been trying to think of things to do for the hospital. We had a motorsports night one evening, and that’s one of my secondary interests. I wasn’t playing that night and I was thinking afterwards it would be fun to do something cool for it and I ended up painting a stick like a checkered flag and I was going to give it away after warm-ups and I thought, you know what? That would be a great item for charity.
“Next thing you know we had it on the Web site and it sold for $230.”
He has more planned, too.
“We’re going to have another auction. I’m going to donate one of the gloves I’ve used this year, autograph it, put it with an autographed 8×10 and do the same thing, auction it off for charity. I’m trying to do as much as I can on a personal level.”
McKenna really thinks that helping others is just one way he can give back to the community.
“Everyone always just says its rewarding, and it is, but I think that it’s about making that extra connection with people, and being able to give back to the people who have supported you or would like to support you. They look up to you when you walk in with a Pirates jersey. You’re someone who is looked up to by people, which is flattering.
“It’s the reality of the job, it’s not always what we do at the rink to make people smile, and if you can do something off the ice we can rally people around us.”
McKenna is happy to be in Portland, which gives him great motivation for the work he does.
“We get paid to play a game that we love and the people that support you and the city itself deserve to see that back. Portland’s been very good and the fans are terrific and that’s the biggest reason. If you’re in a city that doesn’t support the team, it’s really hard to support the causes because you don’t feel apart of the community. Here the community embraces us and you go out into town and someone says ‘Hi’ to you, no matter where you are, I think it’s really special, and we’re lucky to play here.”
So who is this man behind the mask? That man is caring, thoughtful, hardworking individual who always puts it all into everything he does, on or off the ice.
In an era where off-the-field scandals bad influences reign supreme, Mike McKenna is someone we can all look up to, and someone who leaves this person saying, why can’t we all just be like Mike?