Rugged Michigan State junior and Ottawa Senators prospect Jim McKenzie was a key contributor in the Spartans run for and capturing the National Championship. He posted a goal against Maine in Thursday’s semi-final game and assist on Chris Mueller’s empty-netter that sealed the victory over Boston College in the National Championship game.
McKenzie spoke with Hockey’s Future after Michigan State’s National Championship win on Saturday night at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis.
HF: How does it feel beating Boston College and winning the National Championship?
JM: It feels amazing. A team like the guys we have in this room right now and for all of them to come together like this and pull off such a great feat like this is just amazing. You can’t put it into words. This is the greatest group of guys that I’ve ever played with in my entire life. To pull out a championship like and play the type of game that we play, words just can’t explain how I’m feeling right now.
HF: You guys really got into the physical side of the game. Do you feel that it was one of the keys to the team’s success in this particular game?
JM: Oh definitely. We’ve known all year that when we play physical, we feel that we could be anyone in the country. It took a do or die situation like the NCAA Tournament where you lose one and you’re done for us to bring that out and play that way night in and night out. We played that way against Boston University, Notre Dame, Maine and Boston College tonight. We proved that when we play the body and stick to our game plan, we could do just about anything.
HF: One thing that Boston College is so well known for is its speed. Was slowing them down something that Coach Comley really stressed to you guys coming into the game tonight?
JM: Oh definitely. We talked a lot about how they generated a lot of their scoring chances off of turnovers in the neutral zone. We tried to be simple up on the boards. We knew that their defense were going to be pinching up on the wingers so just get the puck and chip it out of the zone. It may not be the most entertaining type of hockey to watch but it’s the type of hockey that wins games and the type that we play. If we could get it out of the zone, be safe with the puck, play wing-on-wing with them in the neutral zone and bottle them up then we could stop them from getting a bunch of speed going in the neutral zone and frustrate them. Which is kind of what happened against Maine as well.
HF: What was the feeling like on the bench when you guys just knew that it was going to be there for you guys when Kennedy got the puck up to Abdelkader?
JM: I’d just taken a line change with (Tim) Crowder, so I had just hopped onto the ice. I didn’t know what to do. Everyone was going crazy on the bench. I said to Abdelkader “you realize that you just scored the game-winning goal for the National Championship?” and then he said, “I don’t even know what happened.” It had just happened, so it was pretty exciting moment that I’ll never forget.
HF: There were people out there who kept saying that you guys are going to be there (in the Frozen Four) and weren’t going to win it. What would you say to them now?
JM: Thank you! Maybe because of the fact that we were so underrated and that maybe our opponents took us a little lightly here and there that we kind of fed off of that. We didn’t need to be in the limelight all the time and we didn’t need reporters telling us how high-octane the other teams’ offenses were and that ours wasn’t. We didn’t have it all year and we didn’t need it here. We proved a lot of people wrong and that we don’t need the run and gun offense to win a championship because we can play good, solid defense, pick and choose our spots and make things happen, so thank you to them (laughing).
HF: How did you guys approach playing someone like Brian Boyle who is not only really big but really skilled as well?
JM: We just felt that we needed to get the puck down to their goal line, work cycles, do spin backs and make him and the rest of his team get their feet moving. We needed to maybe get their sticks caught up in our skates and make them draw a penalty. We just had to keep going and not turn over the puck. Eventually, if you get them looking over their shoulder, maybe they’ll create a turnover. You can’t be perfect for the entire game. People make mistakes. We were kind of resilient, stuck to our game plan, got pucks deep, worked it in the corners and things worked out.
HF: Would you say that you guys were lucky or opportunistic?
JM: I’d say a little bit of both. Luck has a lot to do with the game. We didn’t get a lot of grade A scoring opportunities. We got a breakaway with Kennedy and he capitalized. Abdelkader took that shot off of then crossbar and later ended up getting another opportunity and took advantage. Boston College had a lot of opportunities too. I think it was Boyle who took that shot that Lerg made that glove save on late in the third period. Everyone had opportunities, so it was nice that we capitalized and came out on top.
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