No NHLer has played in a situation like this before, but the end goal remains the same for Zack MacEwen and the hundreds of other players as hockey’s post-season dance begins today.
MacEwen, the 24-year-old Stratford native, is in Edmonton as the Vancouver Canucks get set for their best-of-five play-in series with the Minnesota Wild. Game 1 is Sunday at 11:30 p.m. Atlantic.
“We have a great opportunity in front of ourselves – the Stanley Cup is kind of what you work towards your whole life,” MacEwen said Tuesday. “Your close to it right now, so the excitement level is definitely ramping up as you’re getting closer to playing games here.”
The NHL shut down in mid-March due to the coronavirus (COVID-19 strain) pandemic. Twenty-four teams began limited workouts June 8 and training camps started July 13. The league has set up two bubble cities for the playoffs with the Eastern Conference in Toronto and the Western Conference in Edmonton.
MacEwen returned home and self-quarantined for 14 days after the shutdown. In early May, his 48-year-old father Craig died suddenly after a stroke. MacEwen said it was tough to leave the family and head back to Vancouver.
“But my family has been so supportive and so great. They completely understand the opportunity that I have here. They’re very supportive in what I want to do and wouldn't have it any other way.”
Each of the 24 teams were allowed to bring 31 players to their bubble city. MacEwen, who split the season between the Canucks (17 games) and their AHL affiliate, the Utica Comets (20 games), impressed at camp to book his spot.
“The way I looked at it everybody was on the same page coming back. It was kind of a fresh restart,” MacEwen said. “I just kind of came in (and tried to) do my best and tried to make an impact and get noticed.”
MacEwen, who scored three of his five goals with the Canucks in the final three games before the season was halted, is a six-foot-four, 215-pound right-winger. The power forward believes his style plays well in the post-season as he can bring a physical game while being smart defensively and chipping in offence.
MacEwen is one of three Islanders involved in one of the eight play-in series as 16 teams vie for the remaining eight playoff spots (four per conference). Suffolk forward Ross Johnston and Summerside defenceman Noah Dobson are members of the New York Islanders. None of the trio have played a post-season game in the NHL.
MacEwen, a former Pownal Red Devils, Amherst Rambler, Moncton Wildcat and Gatineau Olympique, said nothing from his past is like the tournament the Canucks are about to embark on. It’s a best-of-five series just to get into the 16-team playoffs.
“This is pretty unprecedent times here. I don't think there’s anything quite like it,” he said. “I just think the team that’s going to be ready right away is probably going to prevail.”
MacEwen, who had only been in the bubble for a couple of days when speaking with The Guardian, said he had no health concerns from what he has seen.
“They have players’ safety at the forefront of everything,” he said. “It’s operating really well.”
Need to know
Here’s a look at Prince Edward Island hockey players and Charlottetown Islanders’ graduates who are with NHL teams as the games that count begin today.
- Stratford forward Zack MacEwen is with the Vancouver Canucks. They play the Minnesota Wild in a best-of-five play-in series. Game 1 is Sunday at 11:30 p.m. Atlantic.
- Suffolk forward Ross Johnston and Summerside defenceman Noah Dobson are members of the New York Islanders. They play the Florida Panthers in a best-of-five play-in series beginning today at 5 p.m. Atlantic.
- Former Charlottetown Islanders’ captain Pierre-Olivier (P.O.) Joseph made the Pittsburgh Penguins’ roster. Joseph, who turned 21 on July 1, was traded from Arizona to Pittsburgh as part of the return for Phil Kessel. Joseph, a Chambly, Que., native, began his professional career this season by playing 52 games for the AHL’s Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. Pittsburgh plays the Montreal Canadiens in a best-of-five play-in series beginning today at 9 p.m. Atlantic.
- The top four teams in each conference will play the other three teams to determine seedings for the playoffs.
- Former Charlottetown Islanders’ defenceman Ryan Graves (Colorado), forward Sammy Blais (St. Louis) and forward Daniel Sprong (Washington) plus former P.E.I. Rocket goalie Maxime Lagace (Boston) are all in that situation.
- Graves, a 25-year-old Yarmouth, N.S., native who was on the Island during the pandemic, led the NHL in plus/minus at plus-40. This is the defenceman’s first full-time season in the NHL.
- Blais won the Stanley Cup a year ago with the Blues while Sprong was traded from Anaheim to Washington at the trade deadline in February. Lagace played 33 games in the AHL this year with Providence.