Quick Hits: April 14, 2019
1) The Lehigh Valley Phantoms' season is over. Despite a 3-2 shootout win over the Hartford Wolf Pack at the PPL Center on Saturday, the Phantoms were mathematically eliminated from the Calder Cup playoffs by virtue of finishing 5th in the tough Atlantic Division with a 39-30-7 record. In the American Hockey League, the top four teams from each division make it to the postseason, so the Phantoms are out despite being guaranteed to finish with more points (85) than whichever team (Belleville or Cleveland) winds up finishing 4th in the North Division after Sunday's games.
2) In Saturday's season finale, the Phantoms rallied back from a 2-0 deficit as veteran team captain Colin McDonald (13th goal of the season) cut the deficit in half in the latter stages of the second period and rookie David Kase scored (8th) with 3:29 left in regulation. After a scoreless overtime, recent OHL graduate Matthew Strome converted the winning shootout attempt.
3) Veteran goaltender Mike McKenna got the start in goal for Kerry Huffman's club on Saturday. He stopped 29 of 31 shots in regulation and overtime before going 2-for-2 in the shootout. He was visited in the locker room by his two young daughters and posted a picture of the moment on Twitter, still wearing his pads and flanked by his kids at his locker.
Born April 11, 1983, McKenna turned 36 years old a few days ago. As a veteran of 14 pro seasons that have taken him through eight NHL in-season rosters (he has appeared in games with seven teams, including one start for the Flyers this season), 12 AHL teams (excluding franchise relocations and repeat stints but including the Phantoms) and an ECHL team.
He knows the drill
very well of the professional life of a journeyman goaltender. McKenna has been a good AHL goaltender over the years and periodically served as a backup in the NHL (35 NHL games played, but dressed in many others as the reserve on the bench or on the roster but a healthy scratch as a 3rd goalie). Nevertheless, the time always comes where NHL parent teams want to move a prospect along in his development and McKenna has often been auditioning for his next job before his impending departure.
At the NHL level, McKenna has appeared in a total of 35 games for the Tampa Bay Lightning, New Jersey Devils, Columbus Blue Jackets, Dallas Stars and Ottawa Senators (for him he won a game this season against the Flyers) and for Philadelphia. He was traded to the Canucks on Jan. 2 and placed on waivers the following day before being claimed by the Flyers. At the AHL level, he's primarily been a starter. In the NHL, he's mostly been a backup.
"Every game, I prepare for the same way, whether I'm starting or backing up. You don't want to be tossed into a game and not be ready for it. There are things that are beyond your control, but the same thing can happen if you starting a game. It's your job to be ready. That's just what you do," McKenna said on January 4 after the Flyers claimed him.
"I have a burning desire to go out there and compete. I'm not just out there to collect a check. I'm out there because I have pride and I passion in what I do. The game is a challenge and it should be a challenge. I just find that the feeling you get when you go out and you do well is something that you can't compare to anything outside the sporting world. It's something we all chase."
At the NHL level, the Flyers have Carter Hart. The organization is looking for a veteran goaltender -- possibly staying in-house by re-signing one of impending unrestricted free agents Cam Talbot or Brian Elliott -- to help shoulder some of the load. At the AHL level, Alex Lyon had a good season when healthy and is viable as a No. 3 netminder on the NHL depth chart in conjunction with incoming rookie Felix Sandström (who made 40 saves on Friday in his AHL debut) being in his first North American season and needing some AHL seasoning.
The chances of the Flyers having interest in re-signing McKenna appear slim. It would only become feasible if Lyon is dealt this offseason to make room for Sandström, and the Swedish newcomer shares time with McKenna. More likely, Lyon stays another year and is the 1A of a tandem with Sandström, with the two sharing time.
When the Flyers claimed McKenna off waivers from Vancouver, he readily admitted that there was a juggling act between his passion for his career and his love of his family that was part and parcel of his life. McKenna and wife Rachel have two daughters (Kenlin and Adeline) and a dog (Bauer). The hockey life is a taxing one not only for players such as McKenna but can also tough for their family members.
"The carousel keeps going and I keep getting a ticket. We don't know what is going to happen with that [beyond this season]. Thankfully, my wife is doing an absolutely incredible job in holding the family together," McKenna said.
With all due respect to Brian Elliott, who was a deserving local PHWA chapter nominee for the Masterton Trophy (his second nomination, as he was previously nominated by the St. Louis PHWA when he played for the Blues), I personally would have lobbied for McKenna as the Philadelphia nominee if I still had a vote in it. I am no longer have membership in the PHWA because my direct working relationship with the Flyers precludes it.
I just feel that, if Ian Laperriere won the Masterton in a season where he didn't play any games due to career-ending post-concussion symptoms, McKenna could be the Philly nominee this year despite only playing in one game for the NHL team. His journey of following his childhood dreams of playing pro hockey and, through that passion, winding up everywhere from Cedar Park, Texas to Omaha to Portland, Maine and a host of locales for anywhere from a couple games to a couple years is a story worth telling.
It remains to be seen whether McKenna will prolong his professional hockey playing career. He certainly is still good enough to play in the American Hockey League, and he has been the primary playoff starter on Calder Cup finalists in two of the last three seasons. That certainly still carries some cache at the AHL level, even if there are no NHL opportunities. So the choice will be up to him.
McKenna wasn't around Philadelphia or Allentown for long, but he instantly became a favorite with teammates, coaches and the media. He's very personable, extremely bright and has a good sense of humor. He's down-to-earth and has a very honest perspective to offer. At whatever point he decides to pursue post-playing opportunities, he would be a natural for broadcasting or for coaching if that's where his interests would be. He is also a blogger and has some writing talent as well as social media savvy.
It's always good to have options in life, and nothing is more precious than family. Whatever is next for Mike McKenna on or off the ice, I know he'll be a success.
4) Congratulations to Flyers prospect Noah Cates and the rest of the Minnesota Duluth team for winning the 2018-19 NCAA hockey championship with a methodical 3-0 win over UMass in Buffalo on Saturday night. Cates, a freshman left wing, played a strong match in the championship game. He did not register a point but was tenacious on both sides of the puck. Coached by former Flyers player Scott Sandelin, the Bulldogs have won back-to-back NCAA championships and three this decade.
5) OHL Playoffs: The Guelph Storm have, well, stormed back from the brink of being swept by the London Knights to win three straight games and force a seventh game in London on Tuesday. On Saturday in Guelph, the Storm prevailed by a 5-3 score after twice trailing by one goal. Flyers left wing prospect Isaac Ratcliffe erased a 1-0 deficit in the second period with his first goal of the series and third of the playoffs. He has three points (one goal, two assists) in the last two games after being held to a single point in the first four games of the series.
6) OHL Playoffs: The Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds will attempt to duplicate what Guelph has done when the Hounds host the Saginaw Spirit on Sunday (7:07 p.m. EDT) in Game 6 of their series. Trailing the series three games to zero, the Greyhounds have won two in a row to bring the series back home for a sixth game. Flyers center prospect Morgan Frost has led the way with seven points in the last two games, including a hat trick in Game 6. Frost has either scored or set up seven of the Greyhounds' last nine goals.
7) WHL Playoffs: The Everett Silvertips were eliminated in the Western League playoffs on Saturday, dropping a 2-1 road decision to the Spokane Chiefs. Spokane won the series, four games to one. In the final game, Flyers defense prospect Wyatte Wiley had four shots on goal and an even plus-minus for the night. He finished the playoffs with five points (one goal, four assists), +3, and with 6 PIM.
8) With the Flyers, Phantoms and Reading Royals (by one point) missing the playoffs, the NCAA tournament finished along with the seasons of all Flyers-affiliated players in European leagues, the final two still-playing guys in the organization this season are Frost and Ratcliffe.
However, that will change in a few weeks when the IIHF World Championships get underway on May 10. Thus far, the following nine Flyers players are confirmed for the tournament:
USA: James van Riemsdyk
Canada: Sean Couturier, Carter Hart
Sweden: Oskar Lindblom, Robert Hägg
Czech Republic: Jakub Voracek, Radko Gudas
Austria: Michael Raffl
Russia: Ivan Provorov (contingent on signing a new NHL contract with the Flyers first)