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Welcome to Blueshirts Briefs, a series profiling those who had short stints with the New York Rangers.
Every week until play resumes, Blue Line Station will feature a player, coach, or general manager who worked a short shift for the New York Rangers. We’ll look at what each contributed to the Blueshirts and why his stay on Broadway was brief. This is the first profile of the series.
Hometown: Abbotsford, British Columbia
How the Rangers got him: 6th round (170th overall) 2013 NHL Entry Draft
Rangers stats: 2 games, 2-0-0, 0.50 goals-against average, .978 save percentage, 1 shutout
Mackenzie Skapski played two games for the New York Rangers. Both were in 2015 when he was 20. Both were at Buffalo. And both ended in victory over the Sabres. His NHL career pretty much ended there for reasons we’ll get to. He obviously wanted to stay in the league, but he’s hardly bitter considering his life nearly ended before he was of driving age.
Skapski was 15 years old and a rising star for the Fraser Valley Bruins of the British Columbia Major Midget League. He seemed on track to move on to juniors, then turn pro.
But on Dec. 11, 2009, on the way to a game at Prince George, Skapski’s bus hit a patch of ice on a British Columbia highway and rolled down an embankment. According to multiple reports, the bus was traveling at about 62 m.p.h. when it skidded off the road. Skapski and his 20 teammates sustained injuries of varying severity.
Skapski suffered the worst injuries — a shattered orbital bone, broken nose, and a blood clot near his brain. He had to be airlifted to a Vancouver hospital where metal plates were inserted into his face and surgery relieved a blood clot near his brain. Skapski was lucky to have survived but wasn’t sure about his hockey career.
“There were some big questions about whether I could play anymore,” Skapski told The Hartford Courant in November 2014. “There were a lot of questions about my health because of the surgery.”
Fortunately (or perhaps more appropriately — miraculously) Skapski was back on the ice by the summer of 2010. He eventually played his way onto Team Canada to represent the Pacific region at the 2011 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge in Winnipeg, Manitoba, winning a bronze medal by going 3-0 with a 3.30 goals-against average in four games.
Skapski got in four games late in 2010-11 with the Kootenay Ice, who selected him in the third round (57th overall) in the 2009 Western Hockey League (WHL) Bantam Draft. He won three of those matches with a 3.16 GAA, then went 9-6-2 with a 3.12 GAA in 2011-12. Over the next two seasons as Kootenay’s starter, he posted a combined 62 wins and 2.75 GAA.
Mackenzie Skapski during his days with the Kootenay Ice.. (Photo by Marissa Baecker/Getty Images)
On his way to Broadway … eventually
The Rangers were impressed with Skapski’s first season as Kootenay’s starter enough to take him in the sixth round (170th overall) in the 2013 Entry Draft.
Following his second season as Kootenay’s No. 1, he joined the Rangers’ East Coast Hockey League (ECHL) affiliate in Greenville, S.C. to start the 2014-15 season. He quickly earned a promotion to New York’s American Hockey League affiliate in Hartford, where he posted a 15-8-3 record, 2.40 GAA, .914 SP, and three shutouts.
Mackenzie Skapski of the Hartford Wolf Pack in April 2016. (Photo by Graig Abel/Getty Images)On Feb. 4, 2015, Skapski was called up to New York when Henrik Lundqvist was forced out of the lineup with a ruptured blood vessel in his neck. Skapski served as backup to Cam Talbot, who was 27 and wound up posting a 34-21-9 record, 2.21 GAA, .926 SP, and five shutouts. When “The King” went down, Talbot went 5-1-2 in eight consecutive starts. He needed a breather.
Sixteen days after getting called up, Skapski made his first NHL start.
The Sabres’ Matt Moulson scored on the first shot of the game at 14 seconds but were turned back on their next 24 bids. That allowed the Rangers to rally for a 3-1 win and made Skapski (20 years, 250 days old) the third-youngest goalie in franchise history to win his NHL debut. (John Vanbiesbrouck — 18 years, 92 days — and Lorne Anderson — 20 years, 237 days — were younger. “Beezer” is the youngest goalie in league history to win his first start, stopping 29 of 30 shots in a 2-1 win over the Colorado Rockies.)
— New York Rangers (@NYRangers) February 21, 2015
Skapski had to wait until March 14 to get his second start. This time, he stopped all 20 Sabres shots in a 2-0 Rangers win. Buffalo finished that season with the NHL’s fewest wins (23), points (54), and goals (161), as well as a league-high 51 losses. No matter, Skapski had two wins and a shutout in two starts.
Eleven days later, however, the inevitable happened. Lundqvist returned from his injury and Skapski was sent back to Hartford. Nobody could’ve known it then, but that second game in Buffalo would be Skapski’s last with the Rangers and in the NHL.
Why he left the Rangers
Remember when Skapski said, “There were some big questions about whether I could play anymore” following his accident in Canada?
Well, they returned in the summer of 2015 when he had surgery to fix a labral tear in his right hip. The injury cost him about four months of the season and limited him to a combined 26 games for Hartford and 60 for Greenville over the next two years, the last two of his entry-level deal with New York.
Following the 2016-17 season, the Rangers opted not to tender a qualifying offer to Skapski. By then, New York had already drafted Igor Shesterkin, Brandon Halverson, Adam Huska, and Tyler Wall — and had Antti Raanta playing well as backup to Lundqvist. Skapski played for ECHL Orlando in 2017-18 and for Zvolen HKM in the Slovakian Extraleague the following season.
Skapski left quite a mark
Skapski is one of ten Rangers’ goalies that are undefeated. Of them, he has the most starts (2) and minutes (119:05), as well as the only shutout.
The closest competition from within that group was from Magnus Hellberg. He made three appearances, including one start, for New York in 2016-17, going 1-0 with a 1.53 GAA and .882 save percentage. Interestingly, he split goaltending chores with Igor Shesterkin in the Kontinental Hockey League last season.
Skapski is tied with 110 other goalies for being undefeated in regulation in the NHL. Only three others played more minutes than Skapski.
Bruce Hoffort went 4-0-3 in nine starts over two seasons with the Philadelphia Flyers, logging a combined 368 minutes in 1990 and ’91. Dave Gatherum posted a 2-0-1 mark in 180 minutes for the 1953-54 Detroit Red Wings, while Daniel Lacosta recorded a 2-0 record in 169 minutes for the 2008-09 Columbus Blue Jackets.
Skapski is no longer playing. He works for Assertion Goaltending Consultants based in British Columbia. His professional playing career obviously wasn’t long, but it will always be remembered as one of the most unusual for any NHL player.