Former Vee wins AHL's Calder Cup

CURTIS MCKENZIE of the Texas Stars is now an American Hockey League Calder Cup champion after he helped his team defeat the St. John’s Ice Caps in five games to capture AHL championship.   - Colin Peddle/AHL
CURTIS MCKENZIE of the Texas Stars is now an American Hockey League Calder Cup champion after he helped his team defeat the St. John’s Ice Caps in five games to capture AHL championship.
— image credit: Colin Peddle/AHL

AHL Rookie of the Year honours and a Calder Cup championship.

It’s a first pro hockey season former Penticton Vee Curtis McKenzie accomplished that only nine others in the American Hockey League have done — Cory Conacher the most recent in 2011-12 with the Norfolk Admirals. Others include Rod Schutt, Pierre Mondou, Mike Walton, Doug Robinson, Boris Elk, Bruce Cline, Wally Hergesheimer and Bob Solinger, who was the first the accomplish the feat with the Cleveland Barons in 1947-48.

McKenzie helped the Texas Stars dispatch the St. John’s IceCaps in the AHL final series, which ended last Tuesday in five games.

“If you had asked me before the season if all of this would have been lined up, I would have said, ‘No way,’” said McKenzie in a phone interview from Austin, Tex. “It’s a pretty spectacular season. It’s one I will never forget. How fun it was, was a big thing too. Just a great group to be around.”

Three days after winning the AHL championship, McKenzie said it was pretty surreal.

“All I can think about right now is lifting the trophy,” said McKenzie, adding that Travis Morin’s two overtime goals is among his playoff highlights. “Jumping over the boards and celebrating with all of the guys. That is what’s going through my head.

“It was an amazing feeling once we finally won it,” continued McKenzie. “It was a really long playoff year (21 games to go with 75 regular season) with a lot of hard work.”

The IceCaps were a tough team, and as a group, McKenzie said probably one of the best teams the Stars faced all year.  After the first two games were split, the Stars won the next three in overtime, 2-1, and 4-3, twice. McKenzie had a goal and five points in the series, including an assist on Morin’s winner in Game 3 and 4.

McKenzie said his line with Calder Cup MVP Morin and Brendan Ranford played really well.

“Our line had a great series,” he said. “It was nice to help out in the finals. Travis Morin’s a special player. All year from Day 1 he was the best player by far. He helped my game immensely this year.”

Also helping improve McKenzie’s game was Willie Desjardins, who the Vancouver Canucks announced Monday afternoon as their 18th head coach in franchise history. McKenzie said Desjardins is amazing.

“We were very lucky to have him this year. He finds a way to get the best out of all his players,” said McKenzie. “That’s pretty special for a coach to do. He has a great knack for it. I think he has a great career ahead of him.”

McKenzie, a graduate of the University of Miami-Ohio Red Hawks NCAA Division 1 program, said this year’s playoffs was a grind, but fun.

“Everyone wants to win so much more. It was a great series,” said, McKenzie, a 6-2, 210-pound forward, who was drafted by the Dallas Stars in 2009. “It was a pretty special team we had this year. That was the big difference. How bad everybody wanted to win in our locker room.”

Upon arriving in Cedar Park, Tex., on Wednesday, the team attracted between 3,000 to 4,000 fans, which McKenzie said was a huge turnout.

“It was pretty fun. We’ve had the cup around,” said McKenzie, who is spending a few days in Golden to visit his parents and bring the Calder Cup with him if possible.

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