CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. – Brad MacKenzie loves hockey.
He does it in the early mornings and afternoons and in the evenings. He does it in the winter and in the summer and all points in between.
And he’s not someone who counts the hours he has committed to growing as a young hockey coach.
“They always say it doesn't feel like work,” the Charlottetown Islanders assistant coach said before a recent practice at the Eastlink Centre. “When I think back to when I’m having the most fun, it’s being at the rink. Whether it’s here or at the hockey school, this is what I want to be doing.”
Coaching and teaching have always been a big part of MacKenzie’s life.
The 25-year-old Charlottetown native became an instructor with Andrews Hockey Growth Programs when he was 14. He was mature beyond his years and started coaching at 18. He hasn’t slowed down.
His dedication, work ethic and drive led him to become the executive director at Andrews and an assistant coach at the university and major junior levels while he was in his early 20s.
“I’m a little bit of a perfectionist and I have always been,” MacKenzie admitted.
“I always have high expectations for myself and . . . I want to bring my best to the table for (whoever I am involved with) and help out and support them in any way I can with the bigger picture of what that organization is trying to accomplish.”
Many of the province’s top hockey minds marvel at the young coach’s work ethic and knowledge.
“He’s absolutely brilliant,” said Allan Andrews, founder and president of Andrews Hockey Growth Programs. “His capacity for work and finishing a task is amazing. He’s one of the most amazing young people I’ve ever met. . .
“The Islanders are really, really fortunate to have him because, in my mind, he’ll be an NHL coach.”
MacKenzie played his minor hockey in Charlottetown. He was the captain when the Charlottetown Islanders major midget squad won the Monctonian and Island championship and hosted the Atlantics.
The following year, the offensive defenceman who thought the game well, attended the P.E.I. Rocket training camp. During an exhibition game in Pownal, MacKenzie dove in front of a shot late in a blowout with the Acadie-Bathurst Titan.
It resulted in a broken jaw that sidelined him for the first half of the season, but he was far from done with the sport.
He connected with his former coach, Jeff MacDonald, and got involved with the major midget squad.
“When I started with him, I was standing in the stands with a video camera during the games, just taping them,” MacKenzie recalled. “Then he basically allowed me to come on the ice and get involved in practices.”
MacDonald said he was more than willing to find a role to keep the energetic and well-organized youngster involved in the game.
“I remember when I was finishing up hockey and not really wanting to get away from the game, Vern Frizzell gave me that same opportunity,” he said. “It turned out to be a pretty good decision for our team.”
“I am happy to see Brad moving forward and staying in the game because he has a lot to offer.”
Former coach Jeff MacDonald
MacKenzie did return to the ice later that season with the Summerside Western Capitals, he later decided to turn his attention to coaching full time.
MacKenzie applied to the Vierumaki Sports Institute in Finland to pursue the business even further.
They accepted six international students, including three Canadians, in his class of 20 out of 256 candidates.
“I viewed it as an experience of working with a lot of different people from different countries, and every place views coaching, and views the game, a little bit different,” he said. “What I really learned from the Finns is their focus on skill development. Where the game is now in terms of small, skill and speed, they were predicting that 10 years ago.”
MacKenzie completed the first two years in Finland and did his third year, a practical term and thesis work, as a 21-year-old with the UPEI Panther men’s hockey program.
Most of the players were older than him.
While some people may have been skeptical, those concerns were answered early into the first season. The Panthers arrived back in Charlottetown on a Sunday from an exhibition road trip and by Monday, MacKenzie had broken down the three games and produced a report.
“It was basically every stat you can think of,” head coach Forbes MacPherson recalled.
“Right away they saw the effort he was putting in to help support their efforts,” he added. “I feel right off the bat that’s what kind of bridged any question marks the players might have had.”
MacKenzie said he learned from many different people how to incorporate video, stats and a skills package together and not overload the players.
“It’s still a game and you want to make sure the players go out and play,” he said.
“The thing you have to respect the most about Brad is that he’s identified very early in life what he wants to do, what he wants to be and how he wants to spend his life, and it’s obvious it’s in hockey.”
Panthers head coach Forbes MacPherson
The date on MacKenzie’s birth certificate hasn’t been an issue.
“The players have complete respect for him,” Andrews said. “He’s straight-forward, he doesn’t beat around the bush and yet he does it in a great way. He’s an amazing people person and understands the individual.”
When Hulton was rebuilding his coaching staff in 2016, MacKenzie’s name came up. He and associate coach Guy Girouard met MacKenzie for breakfast at the Rodd Charlottetown.
“Brad blew us both away in the interview in terms of . . . his preparation, his detail and a skill set neither one of us had,” Hulton said. “(With) the way the game was going, we felt it was important to have somebody with real, real strong individual teaching technical skills.”
MacKenzie was hired and quickly impressed his colleagues on the coaching staff, particularly with his ability to break down video and share it with the players.
“It pushed our program to another level in terms of offering a complete circle of development,” Hulton said. “Now we’re focused in on the individual as much as we are the team. I think that is important with this age group. They’re willing to do anything for the team as long as their individual needs are being met at the same time.”
Charlottetown native Thomas Casey took skating classes from MacKenzie at Andrews at a young age. Now he’s learning from him as a member of the Islanders.
“He’s huge,” the right-winger said of MacKenzie’s role with the team. “He does so much for us, whether it is making us a better player after practice with extra skill drills or analyzing us through video. We can’t thank him enough.”
MacKenzie said he is fortunate to have worked with, and continue to work with, great hockey minds from Andrews and Hulton to MacDonald, MacPherson and Mark Carragher. He also appreciates the flexibility Andrews has provided him.
During the junior season, MacKenzie is with the Islanders in the morning and often will stop into Andrews in the afternoon. He works on planning and program development for the next summer season while on the bus or in the hotel room.
When the Islanders season ends, MacKenzie turns his focus full-time to Andrews.
“At different times, Guy and I marvel at his energy level,” Hulton said. “He’s dedicated to his craft and has a bright future in the game because of it.”