Kootenay Ice goaltender Mackenzie Skapski has been honoured with the WHL’s goaltender of the month for February, backstopping his team to nine wins and two losses.
Skapski earned four shutouts over the last month—two of which were in back to back games—and had a goals against average of 1.27 and a 0.956 save percentage, which led all WHL goaltenders.
Skapski previously earned CHL goaltender of the week in November, where he helped Kootenay earn three wins and posted another pair of shutouts.
“In my position, it’s a big team game,” said Skapksi. “Our team has evolved, as of late, and I’m getting benefits as well. Yes, I’m playing well, but at the same time, I’m also getting the recognition I’m getting because of my team.”
Skapski has been busy between the pipes this season, suiting up for 59 games. The 18-year-old Abbotsford product is currently ranked 12th overall in the WHL, and has seven shutouts this season, which ties him for the league lead with Andrey Makarov and Mac Carruth.
Skapski began the current season looking to take over starting duties from Nathan Lieuwen, who graduated out of the league at the end of last year.
Justin Cardinal, the goaltending coach with the Ice for the last few years, resigned in September, and Mike Bergren was hired on as the replacement in November.
Bergren has a Kootenay connection, as he’s worked with Ice alumnus Jeff Glass over three off-seasons, and is on staff with World Pro Goaltending, based out of Calgary.
Bergren may be a five-hour drive away, but he’s able to get his hands on game tape when he isn’t able to watch Skapski and Wyatt Hoflin on home ice at Western Financial Place.
“He’s very athletic, very strong and he’s very competitive, which is great for a goaltender,” Bergren said, of working with Skapski. “The thing we wanted to touch on right off the bat was gaining control. He’s a big kid, he can really dominate the crease, if he stays under control.”
Bergren said Skapski was moving too much inside the crease, so he began to work on the young goaltender’s game to change and fine tune some habits and technical skills.
So what changed since the Christmas break?
“His control,” said Bergren. “His butterfly’s tighter, he’s getting his body in better position, and he’s starting to understand that he can let the puck come to him, he doesn’t have to try and fight it off.”
While Skapski’s has improved his technical skills, he’s also gotten stronger mentally as well, Bergren added.
“I think the thing with Mackenzie, just because he’s played so much, is that he’s much more comfortable playing in those one-goal games, and he’s able to really take command on the back end,” Bergren said. “He doesn’t let his emotions come out; he’s a pretty subdued kid, but he competes hard and he’s allowed himself to embrace those situations, and each time he does, he just gets better, and better, and better.”
Skapski himself has noticed the tweaks in his game that have come from working with Bergren.
“[I’m] being more simplistic,” said Skapski. “Simplifying my game is something that’s going to gain speed and time for me, and addressing my athleticism to cover my mistakes.
“…I’m getting used to playing every night and it’s becoming routine and I’m starting to enjoy that routine and find little things to help me play well everyday.”
Ice head coach Ryan McGill said he saw signs from Skapski at the Christmas break that the second half of the year was going to be good for the young netminder.
“Paying attention to detail in his game to try to improve is number one,” said McGill. “The experience of playing and evaluating his game after, is number two, and then applying those values the next days in practice and in games and just seeing that snowball effect with his confidence and with his game.”