Player to coach, coach to GM. No matter which of these positions a person is in, everything is on display. Every decision, move, and even breath you take seems to be fair game. Mike McKenzie is well aware of these situations, but he takes every decision he makes in full stride because he wants to continue to build his team—the Kitchener Rangers.
As the general manager, there are many areas that people don’t know about. Whether that be the recruitment process or even day-to-day maintenance, Mike doesn’t take any decision lightly. He also doesn’t make them alone.
“This job is a lot of work, you have to manage multiple groups of people such as the players, coaching staff, scouts and even some of the business staff,” said Mike. “I am very fortunate to have a lot of good people around me to help with things. Guys like Murray Hiebert, Mike Zsolt, Ray Hollowell, and Mike Bukator are the four guys that help me everything. Whether it be looking after prospects or scouting, those are the guys who are around to help me out.”
Recruiting players and scouting prospects is an aspect of the job Mike enjoys doing, but it isn’t as easy now that he has other responsibilities as a GM. The Rangers have a team of about ten scouts located in different parts of Canada and the US. Mike relies on them to bring him information on players throughout different leagues.
“I like to get out and watch as much as I can, but it’s hard sometimes,” said Mike. “We rely a lot on our scouts, especially in those areas that are a little further away, so when it comes to draft day, we have a book on a guy.”
Draft day—one of the biggest days for any sports team. Preparation is key.
“A metaphor I use is it’s like studying for an exam, if you don’t study and do your work all year, you’re going to get to the exam and think uh oh. I don’t know as much as I wish I did,” smiled Mike. “That’s what I try to think even in the early part of the season. I always make sure I watch more than I think I should be. You want to get to draft day and be confident in your picks. All the work is done beforehand. Prepare yourself the best way you can so you’re ready for them.”
Yes, the drafting and recruiting aspect of any GM’s job is arguably one of the most critical elements, but maintenance is key. For Mike, this is done through his relationships with the coaching staff.
“I think its extremely important to have a strong relationship with the coaching staff. It’s probably the most important part,” said Mike. “I am lucky we have a really great staff here with the Rangers, headed up by Jay. When things are going positive, it’s nice, but there are also a lot of hard conversations we need to have with everyone as a group. If you have one guy who is locked in his office calling the shots and doing whatever he wants, I don’t think there is a lot of room for growth there.”
Mike is not that kind of GM. His door is always open and no matter if the trade deadline is fast approaching, he is always willing to talk it out. His humble demeanor speaks for itself.
“I have learned a lot from the coaching staff,” said Mike. “It is a group effort, and there is constant communication, especially between myself and Jay. We are always talking about where we are headed in the future. Constant communication is key. I am so fortunate to be here and have these guys.
Having a support system at the rink helps making tough decisions a little easier—especially releasing or trading players.
“It never gets easier, but It is part of the game and sometimes needs to be done,” said Mike. “It’s tough seeing guys you like go. Most times you can take solace in the fact that they are probably going to a situation where they are going to get more ice or have a better opportunity than they would have had here. In most situations, the trades in our league are based off of opportunity for players.”
Hockey never stops. You don’t go home at 5:00 every day and leave your work at work. It is a constant effort, but Mike knows the importance of balance.
“Taking time away from hockey is important, but it is not easy to do, especially during the season,” said Mike. “Going to the gym and Spending time with my family are ways I take time away from the game. There are nights where I go home, and we had a tough loss, and my daughter is there at the door smiling. She doesn’t care who won or lost she is just happy to see me. That is pretty special. You get a true balance in life that way.”