What most saw when Tomas Hertl delivered a shorthanded double-overtime dagger in Game 6 of the San Jose Sharks’ first-round series against the Vegas Golden Knights was a seemingly harmless shot. It looked like it should have been a routine save, the kind of shot Marc-Andre Fleury should have turned away with ease.
But not Mike McKenna.
What McKenna saw was a tricky stop, one that went up a degree of difficulty the moment Golden Knights defenseman Shea Theodore reached his stick into Hertl’s shooting lane. What McKenna saw was a shot that changed trajectory right at the moment of release. What McKenna saw was the exact type of goal for which goaltenders too often get the blame when there are other factors at work.
So, McKenna took to Twitter and outlined his defense of Fleury, which garnered more than 160 retweets and 1,400-plus likes, a live hit on NHL Network – which, he quipped, he did from the comfort of his “home studio,” a.k.a closet – and a wave of followers who have suddenly discovered one of the best sources of up-to-the-minute goaltending analysis on all of social media.
“It caught fire with that tweet,” McKenna told The Hockey News. “Now I don’t know how many followers I have, but a lot of people are asking me for analysis as these games are going on. Even the past two days, I’ve had some family time and I haven’t been doing it, people are still coming at me with questions, which is actually really cool and flattering that they’re going to me as a source for that.”
McKenna has the clout, to be sure. A sixth-round pick of the Nashville Predators back in 2002, the 36-year-old has spent nearly 15 years in creases throughout the North American professional circuits, including more than 500 AHL contests and 35 NHL outings. And what he offers is a unique perspective. While a number of big-league netminders from yesteryear have found there way onto regional or national broadcasts, McKenna is an active player, one who played 11 games in the NHL this past season, offering up the type of candid insight that we rarely see.
“How many current professional players are actually doing that? You can probably count on one finger,” McKenna laughed. “Maybe it’s just my willingness to put myself out there and do that, but they don’t have many other sources, so if they want it, they have to come to me.”
And they have. His follower count is growing with each passing game, and it’s all because McKenna has been able to spend his nights watching games and breaking down everything from the way the masked men are playing their posts to save selection and even how a netminder might line up prior to a faceoff.
But it’s not always serious. McKenna makes time for levity and offers up an anecdote when he can. He weighed in on the ongoing debate about goaltenders knocking the net of its moorings by bringing up the time last season in Tucson that he knocked his goal loose several times in one game or joking that Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Seth Jones was pumping up his own Corsi with a late-shift shot. It helps, too, that McKenna is familiar with much of the league from his own travels.
“I’ve been the ultimate suitcase, and playing with so many thousands of players that the guys that are playing, I have a lot of stories about those guys and little inside bits of knowledge from being friends with them, them babysitting my kids, from practicing with them and all these things,” McKenna said. “So maybe I bring a unique voice in that way, too, having shared the locker room with so many people.”
McKenna isn’t doing this all for kicks, though. In a way, the time spent live-Tweeting goaltending analysis is an investment in his future, especially with uncertainty about his next step after an incredibly taxing 2018-19 campaign. This past season, McKenna played 10 games for the Ottawa Senators, six games for the AHL’s Belleville Senators, one game for the Philadelphia Flyers and 10 games for the AHL’s Lehigh Valley Phantoms. Mixed in between was a brief stop with the Vancouver Canucks. It was “basically four months of living in limbo, in hockey purgatory,” McKenna said. A father of two young girls, he’s not keen on going through another season like that.
“Someone has to offer me a contract first,” McKenna said. “Let’s not put the cart before the horse here…(But) I’m not willing to honestly play again without some certainty that I’m going to be in one place or at least with one organization for a full season. Maybe that’s a bold statement for a guy who has typically been a number three in an organization, but it’s just not worth it to me if I can’t have that. Maybe if I find an organization that places value on having somebody for the full year and they want to do that, then I’ll think about it.”
In the interim, McKenna is happy to keep building a profile for himself and getting his name out there. He said he’d by lying if he said there wasn't a reason behind the brand-building he’s done this off-season by way of his Twitter feed and his podcast, 6 Degrees with Mike McKenna, which is a play on the idea of there being six degrees of separation between two people. (Added McKenna, laughing: “I’ve played with so many people that you can connect me with and realistically it’s probably about three degrees back to the 1980s or so with anybody in hockey.”)
On the podcast, which is still in its relative infancy, McKenna has already had a wide array of guests, from Golden Knights play-by-play voice Dan D’Uva and former NHL keeper Ron Tugnutt to the former marine turned bus driver for the ECHL’s Maine Mariners, Sampson. McKenna’s goal is to find unique voices from throughout the hockey world, not just those with whom he’s shared locker rooms. And the podcast is just another way that McKenna is adding to his resume and paving the way for a potential post-playing career, work that would see him follow in the footsteps of other goaltenders turned broadcasters such as Kevin Weekes, Martin Biron, Kelly Hrudey and Darren Pang, who McKenna calls “the archetype” for what he would like to do.
“If I could pick my job after hockey, I would love to [get into broadcasting] because you get to stay in the game without having the pressure of being on the ice every day. There’s still pressure of putting out a good broadcast and being good on television, if that’s what you’re doing, but it’s not quite the same as potentially getting booed out of the building by 20,000 fans,” McKenna said. “Yeah, it would be so much fun to do that, live in one place year round and still get to see everybody in the game.”
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