Golden Boy: McKenzie Refocuses, Leads Miami to 2nd Round
by Avash Kalra/Staff Writer
FORT WAYNE, Ind. Golden, British Columbia, is a small town of less than 4,000 people, nestled in between Vancouver and Calgary. Its claims to fame are its logging industry and its location along the Canadian Pacific Railway.
Saturday afternoon, almost 2,000 miles away, Golden native and Miami freshman forward Curtis McKenzie logged the RedHawks' most impressive minutes — all the while looking like a runaway freight train.
McKenzie scored the first goal of the game for Miami and added an assist as the RedHawks held off a never-say-die Alabama-Huntsville team, 2-1. On Sunday, with a return trip to the Frozen Four on the line, Miami will play the winner of Saturday evening's Michigan/Bemidji State matchup
"Curtis is a very gifted player," said Miami coach Enrico Blasi. "He's a hard nosed player, and when he's playing physical and going to the traffic areas in front of the net, he's very successful."
McKenzie's most recent success is perhaps a reflection of timely coaching by Blasi, the CCHA Coach of the Year. In last week's 5-2 CCHA semifinal loss to Michigan, McKenzie was a team-worst minus-3 for the game.
As a result — and despite playing in 39 games this season — the rookie was a healthy scratch in the following day's CCHA consolation matchup with Ferris State.
Explained Blasi, "Sometimes when you're a freshman, you get away from things a little bit. We had done this with Curtis earlier in the year, where we sat him. Not because we were upset with him, but because we want him to understand the type of player we want him to be. And he's great. So, coming back into practice, he's right back with his line. And he did what he needed to do in preparation. When you work hard and you're focused, good things happen."
And to his credit, McKenzie took Blasi's message to heart.
"I was getting away from the game I need to play at this level to help out our team," said McKenzie, who led the RedHawks with five shots on Saturday — his most shots in one game since Nov. 21. "It's just something I needed to do to help get more focused and put back into perspective how I have to play. And I can't get away from that or else I won't be having the success I need to have to help the team.
"I just had to be more focused than I had been and just stick to my game. It's a game I've played my whole life, so I can't slip away from that. It definitely helped with my success and the team's success."
McKenzie's first-period tally against Alabama-Huntsville put the RedHawks ahead 1-0. It came as a one-timer on a power-play opportunity — the third man-advantage chance the RedHawks were granted in the first 10 minutes of the contest. Blasi's crew had been struggling on the power play of late, converting on just five of its last 46 opportunities.
Indeed, McKenzie's goal reflected his new-found focus, coming after a hard-working shift during which he got knocked around in front of the Chargers crease and opposing netminder Cameron Talbot.
"I was just planting myself in the net," recalled McKenzie. "That's when I have my most success. [Carter Camper] was just behind the net, and I just planted myself and caught Talbot cheating a little bit."
As a result, he helped send Miami on its way to yet another NCAA Regional Final — and in doing so, made a small town in western Canada feel all the more Golden.