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The Heroes of 2020
Ryan MacKinnon knows where he will be playing hockey this winter, now it’s a matter of earning a role.
The 26-year-old Summerside native signed a one-year contract in October to return to the AHL’s Bridgeport Sound Tigers. He played eight games with the team last season and 47 with the ECHL’s Worcester Railers. MacKinnon has spent his entire 2 ½-season pro career with the teams, which are New York Islanders’ affiliates.
“Bridgeport has invested quite a bit into me over the past few years, and I’ve built so many great relationships here. It was kind of a no-brainer to come back here,” MacKinnon said Wednesday.
“They treated me so well. With so much unknown, I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to go to a place where I knew the staff and I knew the players.”
With the Railers suspending operations for the season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Sound Tigers will be carrying more players than normal. The exact number hasn’t been determined.
It means MacKinnon will be in Bridgeport, Conn., fighting for a place in the lineup.
“As much as I know them, they know me, so obviously they see something they like. It’s nice knowing you’re here for a reason and you can continue to get better every day. This is a big year and big step, I feel, in my career.”
MacKinnon left P.E.I. earlier this month, quarantined and was on the ice for the first time Wednesday with some of his Bridgeport teammates. They have skated in smaller groups and today they are expected to have a larger team practice.
“This is a huge year for me,” MacKinnon said. “I’ve proven in the past that I can play at this level, so I’m just excited to take the next step.”
Brent Thompson, who has coached the Sound Tigers since 2014-15, called MacKinnon a reliable defensive defenceman and a good puck mover, who looked more mature and stronger this week.
“I’ve always liked Ryan. I know our organization likes Ryan. I think he’s been a great fit,” Thompson said. “He’s really improved through the course of time I’ve got to know him. His practice habits have been more and more consistent and (they are) especially standing out … right now.”
Sometimes in the past, MacKinnon has been sent to the ECHL, but it wasn’t so much of a demotion as an opportunity to grow.
“We wanted him, for development’s sake, playing more games than just sitting here as an extra,” Thompson said. “Now, in this situation, he has the opportunity to be here full time and fight for that spot on our team and to be a regular in the lineup.”
MacKinnon said he’s looking forward to continuing to learn from Thompson, Matt Carkner and Eric Boguniecki.
“They’re tremendous to work with,” he said of the coaching staff. “They’re all experienced guys and they have taught me a lot. I’m still going to the rink and learning something every day, so it’s exciting to have them as a staff.”
MacKinnon skated with other pros wherever they could find ice during the summer. During the fall, they were able to get on the ice with the UPEI Panthers, Charlottetown Islanders and Summerside D. Alex MacDonald Ford Western Capitals.
“They welcomed all of us with open arms, and we were able to skate with them and we can’t thank them enough for that,” MacKinnon said. “Everybody was helping out, it was great.”
It’s a win-win for all sides.
“It’s huge for us,” said Islanders’ head coach Jim Hulton. “We’d like to have even stronger ties with our alumni, especially a guy like Ryan, who really personifies everything you’re looking for.”
While MacKinnon’s only season with the Isles was the year before Hulton arrived in town, he said the former captain is renowned for his work ethic both on and off the ice. He’s also a great example of perseverance.
“This is a local guy who was never drafted but goes the U Sports route, plays at UPEI and then goes on to a pro career,” Hulton said.
Need to know
- Who: Ryan MacKinnon, a 26-year-old defenceman from Summerside.
- The latest: The former Rimouski Oceanic, Charlottetown Islander and UPEI Panthers started training camp this week with the AHL’s Bridgeport Sound Tigers.
Season Level GP G A Pts.
2017-18 AUS 30 5 24 29
2017-18 ECHL 9 2 7 9
2017-18 AHL 3 0 1 1
2018-19 ECHL 68 6 20 26
2019-20 AHL 8 0 1 1
2019-20 ECHL 47 3 12 15
Tigers head coach Brent Thompson said: “Last year, I thought he took a huge stride and showed he can be a regular in the American league.”
Did you know? The AHL has 28 teams this season after three organizations (Charlotte Checkers, Milwaukee Admirals and Springfield Thunderbirds) were granted a one-year leave due to the pandemic. The league announced in October it had moved its targeted start date to Feb. 5. The first pre-season game occurred Tuesday in California.
Jason Malloy is the Guardian's sports editor.