Curtis McKenzie relishing first NHL experience

Curtis McKenzie in his only AHL game before getting called up to Dallas. (Photo by Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)

Curtis McKenzie in his only AHL game before getting called up to Dallas. (Photo by Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)

DALLAS — Curtis McKenzie had plenty to talk about Tuesday morning before the Dallas Stars 6-3 victory against the Vancouver Canucks.

McKenzie, of course, played for Vancouver Canucks coach Willie Desjardins last season in the AHL.

He also grew up as a Canucks fan in Golden, British Columbia.

“It’s pretty exciting for me being a Canucks fan growing up and getting to play them now,” McKenzie said after morning skate Tuesday. “On top of that, Willie and (Doug Lidster) are coaching them now. It’s going to be a pretty unique experience.”

Less than two weeks into his NHL tenure, McKenzie has had his share of interesting moments.

After scoring in Texas opening-night victory against Iowa, McKenzie was officially called up to Dallas on Oct. 12.

He never left Central Texas that Sunday afternoon and enjoyed Canadian Thanksgiving with his Texas Stars teammates. The next day he was officially sent back to Texas, then recalled to Dallas again Oct. 14, and this time he actually made the trip.

“(Dallas general manager) Jim Nill told me I would be up soon if I kept working hard,” McKenzie said. “That day he joked I must have of had a really good practice on Monday.”

While he was joking about practice on Monday, Nill has been seriously impressed by McKenzie’s growth.

“I’ve known Curtis since he was 16-years-old, he’s just a guy who keeps finding a way,” Nill said. “When he was younger, people said he couldn’t skate good enough, then his skating improved. He then goes to college hockey and improves his game there.

“Then he goes to the American League and he does all the little things right,” Nill continued. “He’s a great example that you don’t always have to be the flashiest guy. You don’t have to score goals. It’s about doing all the right things. That’s doing things in your own end — competing hard, getting pucks off boards, blocking shots, battling for pucks. He does all those little things and that’s why he’s up here now.”

McKenzie was a healthy scratch in his first two games before making his NHL debut last Saturday in a 6-5 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers. He was told that he would be dressing Friday, prompting McKenzie to fly in a large fan contingency that included his parents, friends, and grandparents from Western Canada for his NHL debut.

In a bit of rookie hazing, McKenzie led the charge onto the ice before warmups and took a lap by himself before the rest of the team stepped onto the ice.

“All the guys were kind of saying it, but I was kind of like, ‘I don’t really want to do that,’ so I was standing in my normal spot,” McKenzie said. “Then trustworthy (Brendan Dillon), my good buddy from the area, comes up to me. He says, ‘You got to lead the charge, it’s your first game. Give it a ‘Here you go boys, then go flying out there,’ so he gave me that.

“I was all fired up and went for one lap there, halfway through my first lap there I noticed nobody else came out, so it was a little embarrassing, but it was a pretty good memory,” McKenzie said.

McKenzie had 18 shifts that night for 11 minutes, 40 seconds of ice time in his debut. He also won a face-off and had a shot on net.

He had 15 shifts on Tuesday for 10:51 on a line with Vernon Fiddler and Ales Hemsky. He also had six hits and blocked a shot.

He didn’t have as many fans in attendance, but his grandparents stuck around while other members of his family had to fly back to Western Canada after the weekend.

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