In this week’s Getting to Know, Jim McKenzie recounts the hilarious story of his first jersey, the big defenseman who was his idol and the highs and lows of winning and losing the Stanley Cup.
Status: NHL left wing from 1989-2004 with Hartford, Dallas, Pittsburgh, Winnipeg, Phoenix, Anaheim, Washington, New Jersey and Nashville. Currently serves as a pro scout for Florida. Resides in Nashville.
Ht: 6-foot-3 Wt: 205 pounds
DOB: November 3, 1969 In: Gull Lake, Sask.
First Hockey Memory: “My dad brought home a box of hockey equipment, it had some skates and some other things in it. And it had a Boston Bruins jersey – my dad was a Montreal Canadiens fan – I remember the joke he made, “Don’t worry, we’ll get a real jersey.” My first memory is that and watching Hockey Night In Canada.”
Hockey Inspirations: “My favorite player to watch is probably Larry Robinson. Like most of the kids, early on you watched Montreal had have success, then it was the Islanders, then Edmonton and even Calgary. It was watching those teams and the great players and watching them at the end of the year when they won the Cup, and celebrated, that kind of thing.”
Last Book Read: “Lone Survivor.”
Greatest Sports Moment: “Probably winning the Stanley Cup with New Jersey in 2003. Every kid grows up dreaming of doing that and wanting to do that. To become a pro and realizing how hard it is to have that opportunity and two years previous with New Jersey when we got beat by Colorado in seven games. It was incredible just to get there. You’ll probably never get back. So to get back and beat Anaheim in 2003, from a hockey standpoint, that would be it.”
Most Painful Moment: “2001, losing to Colorado, the feeling of losing Game 7 was still a greater feeling than winning the Stanley Cup. To have that feeling – if it makes you a poor loser or what it is – I can recall the moment it was over and we lost and they were celebrating with the fans in Colorado. To this day that loss was a greater awful feeling than winning was a greater feeling.”
Most Memorable Goal: “Maybe my first one. I didn’t score a lot of goals. I was lucky enough to actually have a hat trick against LA. I was with Phoenix at the time. Maybe that. When you don’t score a lot they’re all great. My first goal was against Calgary with Hartford.”
Favorite Uniforms: “I think it’s pretty cool where it’s going in the last few years. I love the throwbacks, the old LA Kings, I like the old Pittsburgh ones, the Original Six jerseys are always great. I work for the Panthers so I’ll say the Panthers.”
Favorite Rinks To Play: “As a player I was so lucky to come in when it was the Boston Garden, Montreal Forum, Toronto, Chicago, where you couldn’t hear yourself during the national anthem. Still similar, too, but when you’re playing you think it’s even greater then. I was very lucky to play in all those rinks. Certainly not as nice as the new ones, though. You put up with different things. Just incredible atmospheres. And having known just how many amazing and great players had played there on that same ice before I even got there”
Why Do You Love Playing Hockey?: “I don’t know, it’s just a great sport, it’s a lot of fun. Any time I play men’s league, I do everything I didn’t do when I was playing pro. I don’t back-check, I certainly don’t hit, I never go in front of the net in case I get hit with the puck. I don’t block shots. It’s just a great sport and a lot of fun to play. It’s a game where you go out and get some exercise, and have a great time with a bunch of guys, on any level.”
Funniest Players Encountered: “Wow. Some guys are just funny without trying to be. I think every team has characters. I couldn’t name one guy. Pretty impressed to have played with the number of teams I played for, so many great guys on every team. It was rarely ever an issue, just great guys. That’s part of what makes it the hardest when you’re done playing – not going back in the locker room because it’s that camaraderie, of not being around the guys. You can make anything fun, standing on the tarmac on the plane, can’t get off the ground for a couple of hours – and still have fun.”
Fiercest Competitors Encountered: “A lot of them. I played with a couple and against. I thought Peter Forsberg, Eric Lindros, Theoren Fleury, Chris Pronger played the same way. I was lucky enough to play with Scott Stevens, he was ferocious. Quiet ferocious. Pretty quiet guy but he let his actions speak for himself. Just incredibly competitive guys. Winning is great. But there are certain guys who will do anything not to lose. And there’s a big difference.”
Embarrassing Hockey Memory: “I think I was pretty lucky that way. I may have stepped on a puck and went down. Pretty lucky where I can’t remember going to the wrong bench any time, or the wrong penalty box. I was pretty lucky that way [smiles].”
Funny Hockey Memory: “Nothing really stands out. Being too far away from it too many years have passed in between. Like I said, every team I played on was a great experience. There were always times where you’re gonna laugh. Whether somebody did something on purpose or by accident. There were always characters on every team who did keep it light, keep everybody having a good time.”
Most Memorable Fight: “I probably have a bunch of them. Just different reasons. Funny stuff that went on before, during or after. Actually, quite a few of them [smiles]. But usually it’s the story around the fight itself.”
First Famous Player You Met Or Encountered: “Growing up out west it was too far to go to a game, in Saskatchewan – Winnipeg especially in the winter was a pretty good drive from there. The first game I was in Calgary against – I want to say Moscow Dynamo, an exhibition game at Christmas, during the midget tournament in Moose Jaw when we played there. We didn’t meet anybody but we got to see the game, which was incredible. So that was the first time I’d seen a pro team play and that was great. First training camp at Lake Placid, I remember Gordie Howe was up there, which was incredible. As friendly as he was interacting with everybody and nobodies like me. I was there after the draft (’89), I didn’t have a contract or anything like that. I didn’t know if I was gonna stick around.”
Strangest Game: “I don’t want to say his name because he’s a great guy, but Ray Bourque in the old Boston Garden – because it was a smaller rink – Ray Bourque scored almost from his own net. Face off dot in his own end, he zinged it, it bounced a couple of times and got by our goalie. That was pretty funny, in part, because I wasn’t on the ice and I wasn’t the goalie. That was probably one of the strangest. It just bounced funny. It took a couple of hops or something. It probably wasn’t funny at the time because you never want to give up a goal. But afterward we had a pretty good laugh about it.”
Mark “Scoop” Malinowski’s book “Facing Nadal: Symposium of a Champion” is now available at Amazon.