Hockey’s ultimate journeyman goalie calls it a career
Mike McKenna isn’t sure where to start on the craziest stories from his long and winding road of a career.
“We could be here forever,” he said. “I mean, do you want to talk about me, or do you want to talk about when the bus caught on fire? Or do you want to talk about swiping a Volvo on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge? These are things that have happened. You can’t make that up.”
McKenna’s path through hockey looks stranger than fiction. The journeyman goaltender announced his retirement Tuesday after stints with 15 NHL organizations and 22 professional teams in all, enough material to fill a novel.
“I never expected this, and it turned into my career path and that’s just the way it was,” McKenna said in an interview during the Stanley Cup Final earlier this year. “To me, yeah, it was crazy. There has been a lot of stops along the way. But I just made so many friends, I’ve been in so many places and got to experience so much, I feel like I’ve had a pretty full life in the game with 15 organizations to go through.”
McKenna said his eldest daughter being in school changed the equation. The 36-year-old had been open to playing another season but wanted to be rooted in one place and joked that he would’ve been the only No. 3 goalie in the league with a no-movement clause.
Instead, he will move on after playing 15 games for the Lightning, 10 for the Senators, four for the Blue Jackets, two each for the Stars and Devils, and one apiece for the Coyotes and Flyers. Since being a sixth-round pick of the Nashville Predators in 2002, he played in the NCAA, ECHL, American Hockey League and NHL.
McKenna spent a vast majority of that time in the AHL, which gave him some colorful stories. He thinks it’s hard to top the Portland Pirates’ bus catching on fire on the way to a game.
“We had a right rear (tire) blow and I don’t why it happened, but something lit up a hydraulic line or something,” McKenna said. “Next thing you know, the right rear of the bus was on fire and the flames were licking over the side of it and our bus driver got off and told us in the middle of the road in Rhode Island or Mass or whoever we were: ‘Everybody off! We’re on fire!’”
McKenna and his teammates had to play that night and lost. He blames it on smoke inhalation.
So many stops along the way provided McKenna with 18 different masks, all of which he still has. The jerseys? Well, that was more difficult.
“You don’t get to keep jerseys from teams. They don’t give you those,” McKenna said. “I have most of my jerseys, and I’ve probably been given a jersey by a half-dozen teams I would say, but the other ones I’ve either had to pay for or have traded to get.”
It takes time just to list the teams he’s played for professionally: Las Vegas, Norfolk, Milwaukee, Omaha, Portland, Tampa Bay, Lowell, Albany, New Jersey, Binghamton, Peoria, Springfield, Columbus, Arizona, Syracuse, Texas, Dallas, Belleville, Ottawa, Philadelphia and Lehigh Valley.
Last season, a trade and subsequent waiver claim by Philadelphia gave him three teams in four days.
“I’ve never done that before,” McKenna said. “With goalies, this can happen. You order some white gear and hope it shows up soon.”
McKenna and his family have had a house in St. Louis for a decade now and will make it home. The need for white gear and a new mask is over, but not before he could indulge in some self-professed “dark comedy” about bouncing around like a puck on choppy ice.
“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,” he said.