Freshman power forward Curtis McKenzie has become an integral part of the Miami RedHawks attack this season. He currently leads the team in rookie scoring with 27 points (six goals, 21 assists) in 41 appearances to date. McKenzie also leads Miami with 88 penalty minutes.
Hockey’s Future caught up with McKenzie at Ford Field after practice on Wednesday.
HF: As a freshmen, this is your first trip here to the Frozen Four. So how has the experience been for you?
CM: It’s been pretty unreal. Not many people get this chance to be in the Frozen Four, and to be here as a freshman is pretty unbelievable. The guys have just told me to just live it up and live in the moment. This will probably be one of the best times of your life. You may never get another chance to be back here again, so you should take it all in.
HF: How has your role on the team evolved and how has that impacted your game?
CM: All of the players and coaches have helped me out a lot. They’ve all been big with my development over the year. They give me little pointers on how to help my game. When I first came in, I was assigned to a specific role, and then I kind of got away from it a little bit. But lately, they have been stressing to me the importance of keeping my role as a power forward on the team because that’s how I, as well as the team, can be successful. It’s my type of game and it’s something that I’m continually working hard at. I can’t lose focus and try to become a player that I’m not.
HF: Playing in the tight defense-first system that Miami plays, how has that enabled you to become a better player and in what areas of your game has benefitted most from it?
CM: Well, I think it’s helped me greatly defensively. It’s something that we all focus on here at Miami from the goaltenders on out. Seeing how good defensively that a player like Tommy Wingels (SJ) is makes me want to really stress that aspect of my game as well. I think this year I’ve proven that I can play defensively because that was an area that I needed to improve. So I think that’s helped a lot.
HF: Do the coaches stress using your size and toughness often to help the team?
CM: Yeah. I think they really want me to use my size and physicality as often as possible. They want me to utilize those areas against every opponent and just do what every other guy on the team does, which is being a part of a tough, physical team. And that’s a huge part of our success too.
HF: What areas have you improved in and what areas are still a work in progress?
CM: I think my play away from the puck has improved. I learned a lot this year, especially playing with our skill guys. I take note of what they do and try to do the same. I still have to continue to work on my skating, even though I think it has improved. At the beginning of the year, everything was so much faster and I had to adjust to the pace of it. I also still need to work on all of the little stuff, so I’m doing that every day too.
HF: How would you describe yourself?
CM: I think I’m a power forward and just have to continue to be that. I have to continue doing things like being as physical as I can and taking the puck to the net. I’m also trying to continue to make smart plays defensively and working as hard as I can around the net.
HF: What do you feel is your most underrated attribute?
CM: I think the most underrated part of me is how much love I have for my teammates. I think I would anything for anyone on our team no matter what the circumstance is. I will always have their backs. That may not be seen by most people, but that’s what is important to me. With the Brotherhood, it’s pretty phenomenal how much of a close-knit team that we have here. It’s nothing like anything that I’ve ever seen before nor will likely never see again. It’s just awesome to be a part of the Brotherhood.
HF: Did you go to the Dallas Stars’ prospect camp last summer?
CM: No, because they didn’t have one. It may have been because of economic reasons.
HF: Do you plan to attend if they hold one this summer?
CM: Yeah, I think I will.
HF: Have the Stars been keeping tabs on your progress this season?
CM: I think so. I know that Joe Nieuwendyk is really good friends with our assistant coach Brent Brekke, so I think that’s how the Stars keep tabs on me. I know that they’ve been out to see a couple of our games too. For the most part, they’ve kind of left me alone. They’ve allowed me to do my own thing and stay focused on Miami hockey right now.
HF: With your teammate, Reilly Smith also being a Stars prospect, you two may be teammates once again in the future at the next level, so that has to be something special.
CM: Yeah, and we’re both roommates right now too. So it’s pretty awesome. We’ve hit it off pretty well together. We’ve become pretty good friends since we both got here, so who knows maybe we’ll be teammates again later on.