McKenna’s Mail: Coach Reviews, Playing in the Minors, Hardest Shot, and More

Former NHL goaltender Mike McKenna answers reader questions!

I don’t know what markets you are targeting in the US, but I think there are plenty of local outlets that do a great job of keeping their feet on the go when it comes to NHL teams.

That said, I can sympathize with your feelings. I’ve played – and worked – in markets where local media aren’t very critical. And I think there are several factors involved.

Some journalists just don’t know the game well enough to be comfortable raising the temperature. And I understand that. But I think it’s part of the job to be opinionated and critical. Fans want a voice to defend their ideas, and a member of the media doesn’t have to have a hockey career to achieve that.

But I also think some NHL teams are trying very hard to control the message. And I believe there are media outlets that are afraid to ruffle the feathers of a team’s public relations staff or management. They fear losing access. And they don’t want to be on bad terms with the soul of their industry.

But I think it’s weak. Teams deserve criticism. But it must be done in a respectful manner. Ask pointed, but not personal, questions. Players and teams resent feeling attacked.

I played both! And I think each game meant something different. They happened at very different times in my life. The 2007 ECHL game – I had just graduated from St. Lawrence and life was simple. I wasn’t making a lot of money and I saw All-Star selection as a potential platform. Maybe I would play well enough and an AHL team would notice me. It was exciting.

The 2016 AHL All-Star Game in Syracuse, New York was really cool because it was later in my career and it felt like an affirmation of what I had accomplished so far. I was really proud to be part of this team – even as a late addition. That was the best part. Looks like someone noticed.

The worst parts? Well, for the ECHL game, I couldn’t participate in the skill contest. I was with the Calgary Flames AHL affiliate – the Omaha Ak-Sar-Ben Knights – and had to fly to Boise on game day. It was a shame not to have the full experience. But I was happy to be there.

And the part that hurt me with the AHL game – my wife was too pregnant to travel. So I had to go solo while she stayed in Portland, Maine with our oldest daughter. It wasn’t ideal, but luckily they were able to watch. It was still quite special.

Martin Frank. And I recently wrote about him. You can see it here.

I assume your question is about the NHL skills competition that took place Friday night in Las Vegas. And I think you’re onto something.

I think the best way to answer is this: it’s super relaxed until showtime. Every player in an NHL All-Star Game wants to win. Their domestic competitiveness is really exposed.

Fastest skater, sharpest shot, hardest shot – take your pick – they all carry weight in the league and in the locker room. Players like Ray Bourque and Mike Gartner have had Hall of Fame careers, but each is remembered just as much for their performances in skills competitions. Bourque was unbeatable at marksmanship. Gartner was the fastest skater’s top dog.

Imagine being Jordan Kyrou and upsetting Connor McDavid in this year’s fastest skating competition. There is greater bragging, is there not?

Whichever team makes a claim and is at the bottom of the standings, they win the player. It happened to me once. Philadelphia and Toronto requested waivers, and the Flyers trailed the Leafs in the standings. So I went to Philadelphia.

I will only speak for myself. But I loved the shootouts. It was a one-on-one challenge and something I was very proud of. In fact, my first and last pro victories both came in shootouts.

That said, I can’t stand pro hockey games being decided by them. I think overall the players would prefer to finish the game playing hockey. But who knows how long that might take, and the NHL needs to consider TV windows, ice conditions and player safety. There wasn’t much appetite to get past the five-minute overtime.

But the fans need a winner. Players need a winner. Ties are the worst. So from that perspective, I like having the shootout. If that’s the best option for the NHL, so be it. But that’s a bit trivial.

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