Curtis McKenzie never envisioned winning rookie of the year in his first full season in the American Hockey League with the Texas Stars.
However, after putting up 27 goals and 65 points in 75 games, the Penticton Vees alumnus was voted the winner of the Dudley (Red) Garrett Memorial award as the AHL’s outstanding rookie. McKenzie admits he was shocked as the winner is voted on by AHL coaches, players and media in each of the league’s 30 cities.
“It was definitely pretty exciting,” said McKenzie, on the phone from Austin, Tex. “There are so many good players that are deserving of winning it. It was a huge honour to receive.”
McKenzie, drafted by the Dallas Stars in 2009, ranked first among AHL rookies in points, power-play points (33) and power-play assists (23) at the time of the announcement on April 15. McKenzie was the CCM/AHL rookie of the month for December and was named to the AHL All-Rookie team earlier this month.
Helping McKenzie make the adjustment to the professional game from the college game, where he played four years for the University of Miami-Ohio Red Hawks, was playing five regular season and two playoff games with the Stars last season.
“When I came in there, it was a huge jump,” said McKenzie. “That kind of prepared me for this year. Taught me about the pro game. What I needed to work on in the summer.”
Working out with former teammate Ryan Johansen of the Columbus Blue Jackets last off season, McKenzie’s training regimen changed from what it was in college. He focused on things to improve his speed and agility. McKenzie did lighter body workouts which he feels helped, especially with playing more games.
McKenzie did find the 76-game schedule wore him out, but he also learned more about his body and what works best for him. The schedule also allowed him to be more consistent compared to college, where he played two games on the weekend. McKenzie said the pro game is also better suited to his style and he’s loving it.
McKenzie said playing in the AHL is “pretty awesome” and said it’s an unbelievable league. McKenzie didn’t expect to produce at nearly a point-per-game clip like he has, but confidence coming into the season helped, as did getting first-unit power-play minutes. He credits his success to playing with AHL MVP Travis Morin and Colton Sceviour, who is with the Dallas Stars now. McKenzie said he learned a lot from both, especially watching how hard they work.
While McKenzie finished the regular season as the Stars’ second highest scorer, he also finished plus-seven and said his play in the defensive zone improved a lot, especially the last two months.
He feels he improved in all facets and his skating is better, knows where players are going and he has more confidence with the puck to setup teammates and finish scoring chances.
Although McKenzie is proud of his recognition and development, he is also proud the Stars clinched the Macgregor Kilpatrick Trophy as the AHL’s regular season champ.
Now begins the Stars’ chase for a Calder Cup as they face rival Oklahoma City Barons.
“We have such a hard working team,” said McKenzie, adding that he feels they can have a great run.
While McKenzie is proving he can produce in the AHL, he also brings playoff experience. McKenzie’s career with the Red Hawks is capped by winning three championships in four years and four trips to the National Collegiate Athletic Association Frozen Four tournament. The only let down, McKenzie said, was not winning the national championship.
When McKenzie isn’t playing hockey for great fans in Cedar Park Center, he’s playing golf and enjoying living in Austin. McKenzie has also taken up cooking and “is pretty prolific in Netflix” as he’s hooked on Sons of Anarchy and starting Homeland. He also loves the HBO series Game of Thrones.