Winnipeg Jets prospect and Manitoba Moose forward Skyler McKenzie is back on this side of the pond after being loaned out to a team in Germany to start the hockey season.
While a number of players under contract with the Jets played overseas to start the campaign, McKenzie was the only Canadian in the organization to try his hand at European hockey while the NHL and AHL are on pause.
“I felt like it would be good for me, just to get back on the ice,” McKenzie said. “It was a long time not playing in an actual hockey game, so going over there, I kinda treated it like a mini-training camp before training camp started. Just get my touches in. Just get my reps in and get into a game situation.”
But it wasn’t exactly a European vacation. With COVID-19 restrictions in place, the rink and his residence were about the only places he got to see.
“It sucks to say, but COVID kinda ruined it a little bit — not able to go out and do much, but it was still a lot of fun.” he said.
“They only play two games a week over there, so it was kinda just waiting, the waiting game, especially with teams kinda getting COVID.”
McKenzie scored three goals and one assist in only six games with EHC Freiburg in the German league where he says it’s a vastly different style of game.
“It was really different. That’s for sure,” said McKenzie. “The ice is way bigger over there, obviously, so you got a lot more time and room with the puck. There’s not as much physicality over there, so that was something to get used to.”
Complicating matters was the fact McKenzie doesn’t speak German, but luckily the head coach and players on the team were fluent in English.
“I had a guy on the team come and help me out when I needed to go to the grocery store or anything like that,” said McKenzie.
But the Jets’ seventh round pick in 2017 is now back home in Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta. With health restrictions in place and all the arenas closed, McKenzie is preparing for Jets’ training camp on an outdoor rink, hoping to improve on the nine goals and 14 assists he notched in 58 games with the Moose last season.
But his arrival home from Germany came just a tad too late, missing the birth of his first child, where he had to watch it all unfold on FaceTime.
“My wife went into labour a little early,” he said. “So I had a flight booked home a couple days before she would have went into labour, and it turned out he came a couple weeks early, and she’s healthy, he’s healthy, and I figured it was time to come home.”
And the proud papa is now taking it all in with his two-week old boy before hockey season begins over here.
“Proudest moment of my life for sure,” said McKenzie. “And he’s a good little boy. He’s not crying too much or anything like that, so dad can still get some sleep.”