VOORHEES — If he didn’t have the sense of humor to go along with his instincts between the pipes, who knows where and when 35-year-old goalie Mike McKenna’s wild ride would have ended?
Maybe it would have been 12 years ago in Las Vegas when he was with the ECHL Wranglers and picked up new teammates at a rest stop on the road.
Or the time he was with the Norfolk Admirals when the bus swiped a Volvo on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and sat on the side of the road for hours.
Perhaps with the Portland Pirates some years back, when the team bus blew a tire on its way to Providence, Rhode Island. It caught on fire and he had to play that night because his goalie partner’s gear smelled too much like smoke.
“That was a good one,” McKenna said. “That one made the news.”
Just this week, McKenna has been with the Ottawa Senators, Vancouver Canucks and now the Flyers. He backed up Carter Hart Saturday afternoon and will do so again Monday when the Flyers play the Blues from McKenna’s hometown of St. Louis. He was traded from Ottawa to Vancouver on Wednesday but didn’t have to go far because the Canucks were already in Ontario to play the Senators. He says he just dragged a trash bag with his belongings down the hall to meet his new team.
After backing up Vancouver’s Jacob Markstrom for two games, the Canucks put McKenna on waivers Thursday and the Flyers claimed him Friday following Michal Neuvirth’s latest “lower-body injury.” This makes the ninth NHL franchise McKenna has dressed for and he has gotten into games for six of them.
With the Flyers playing both Monday and Tuesday, perhaps he gets a call against the Washington Capitals. If McKenna plays, the Flyers would join the 2007-08 Los Angeles Kings, 2002-03 Blues and 1989-90 Quebec Nordiques as having seven goalies play in a season.
“I’m not worried about records or anything like that and I don’t think anyone in this room is, either,” McKenna said. “This is coming from a guy who just got here, but your mission is to win games, not to worry about that. Just take it as it comes.
“With goalies, this can happen. You order some white gear and hope it shows up soon.”
Scott Gordon can commiserate. The Flyers’ interim coach was the sixth of the seven goalies on that Nordiques team.
He was with the AHL Halifax Citidels when coach Robbie Ftorek knocked on his hotel room door and asked where Gordon’s favorite place to play was. A native of Brockton, Massachusetts, Gordon’s answer was Boston.
Ftorek said his was Buffalo.
“I’m like OK, this is weird,” Gordon recalled. “It’s the middle of the day and he’s knocking on the door. He goes, ‘Well, you’re going up to Buffalo to play tomorrow.’”
It’s a strange life, that of a goalie, but Gordon didn’t draw any parallels to his scenario back in late January of 1990 and this year’s team with McKenna.
The Nordiques were 9-34-6 when Gordon made his NHL debut and the Flyers are a bit better at 15-20-6.
“The team at that point was, there was a fire sale that was gonna happen at the trade deadline,” Gordon said of the Nordiques.
With the Flyers 14 points out of a playoff spot Sunday afternoon, don’t count out the possibility that it happens with this team too. The only time in franchise history that the Flyers made the playoffs despite being out of a postseason spot on Jan. 6 was last season when they were only two points shy.
McKenna may not even be around until the deadline on Feb. 25. Anthony Stolarz, one of three injured Flyers goalies, skated Sunday and could return within the next week or two. Brian Elliott could be another week or two behind Stolarz.
That might mean McKenna could be on the road again, which is tough considering he has a wife, Rachel, and two young daughters, Kenlin and Adeline at “home” in Belleville, Ontario. Home has meant several places to them over the years and certainly different team colors.
Saturday afternoon McKenna was already in orange and black after Flyers equipment manager Derek Settlemyre wrapped his leg pads, glove and blocker with an adhesive of the new team colors.
“(Settlemyre) is a wizard with this stuff,” McKenna said. “It looks pretty mean. It kind of reminds me of Walt in “Slap Shot.” What can you do but laugh, really? I mean, it looks awesome and I’m really happy about it, but it’s pretty funny. I basically have a roll of tape on my head here. It doesn’t change how I play though. It’s just color.
“I mean, there’s probably a lot of punch lines out there associated with what I’ve done and you have to be able to laugh at yourself in life. I take my profession really, really seriously, but there is some inherent dark comedy to this too.”
McKenna’s legend grows with a new chapter in Philadelphia, however long or short it may be.
It just adds to a crazy Flyers season that has seen a coaching change, general manager change, a lot of underperformance and six goalies in action. So far.
Maybe that’s not quite as strange to McKenna, who has stories from more than a dozen professional teams.
“It’s clearly not normal. It’s not at all, but what is normal? There is no normal with this, right? I didn’t expect this to be my career path, but it is what it is and I’m proud of it,” McKenna said. “I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished. I’ve been on all those teams because it’s been one-year contract after one-year contract. It’s not like I’ve been demoted, sent around and traded a bunch, especially because this is only the second time for a trade. I’m proud of it. I’ll own it and I’m happy I’ve made as many friends as I have along the way. To be 35 and in the National Hockey League for a reason, it’s a pretty good feeling and hopefully I keep going with it.”
Dave Isaac; @davegisaac; 856-486-2479; email@example.com
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