Mackenzie Savard has made a habit of beating the odds. The 5'7" goaltender from Dowling has been told, one level to the next, that he is simply too small, that more skilled shooters will pick him apart as he continues to climb the hockey echelons.
In fact, even a fall tryout with the Niagara Ice Dogs did not involve much in the way of promises from the OHL team. "They told me that I was coming out, and that I was a "filler", and just to work my butt off," said Savard.
Pretty much what he has been told every step of the way. And working hard to overcome the fact that he doesn't fit the ideal "mold" of a 6'0" to 6'3" goaltender at the junior hockey level is something that has become a way of life for Savard.
This time, however, it paid off, big time, as the local puckstopper was signed, by the Ice Dogs, to an OHL contract following an outstanding performance at training camp. "After our second little intrasquad game, I figured I had a chance," said Savard.
"I had already seen the rest of the goalies. I thought that if I kept playing consistently, then there was an opportunity, a door to be opened," he added. Sticking around longer than anyone expected, Savard would dress for the "Red and White" game, coming up with perhaps the best performance of his life at the perfect time.
"I was nervous, but I knew that I couldn't be nervous, because if I was, that would just kill me," Savard noted. "So I just got it in my head that I had absolutely nothing to lose." With Dallas Stars' prospect Brent Moran clearly slotted as the number one goalie in Niagara this year, Savard knew full well that the team was looking for a capable back-up, someone who might tackle the ten or so games when the third year OHLer would rest.
And while he has reached a goal that few would have projected he could achieve, Savard knows that the work does not stop here. "This is just the beginning. I have to keep pushing myself and pushing myself every day."
He has learned, over time, to compensate for the shortcomings over which he has no control. "I have to read the play as well as I normally do, read the shots as well as I normally do, stay patient, do all that kind of stuff, and it will be fine," he said.
"Everyone figures that you have to be a 6'2" goalie these days, and I hope to finally disprove that." Still, with the team carrying three goalies in the early part of the 2014-2015 season, Savard is not blind to the fact that he might not be able to stick with the OHL team this year.
"Realistically, everything is an opportunity right now," he said. "If I end up playing for an affiliate team, it's still an opportunity that's going to open doors for me." Doors that most young prospects would have taken for granted were slammed shut, never to see the light of day.
Thankfully, Mackenzie Savard is not "most young prospects".