Connor Mackey’s first season teased future Flames success (2021 year in review)

Photo credit:Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Paige Siewert
1 year ago
Sometimes in team sports, individual performances can shine regardless of the team records. That is what Connor Mackey was able to achieve this past season with the Stockton Heat.
Mackey started his first professional season by earning a spot on the Calgary Flames taxi squad and getting his NHL debut shortly after. After a couple of games up with the Flames, he was assigned to the Stockton Heat for the majority of the season before getting some time in the last three games for the Flames. Based on his play in just a single, modified season, Mackey shows the potential to be an everyday face on the Flames blue line next season.

The past

Connor Mackey was an undrafted defenceman that got his exposure through play at Minnesota State University – Mankato. He played three seasons in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association before the Flames signed him as a college free agent on March 20, 2020. Mackey finished his collegiate career ahead in the plus/minus category and earned a total of 61 points in his 118 games for Minnesota State.
In his final season with the MSU Mavericks, he earned his share of individual recognition as an AHCA/CCM Second Team All-American, and All-WCHA First Team Selection. On the team side of things, Mackey contributed to the Mavericks’ Regular Season Championship with a final conference record of 23-4-1 and an overall record of 31-5-2 in his last year in the NCAA.
Prior to his career at Minnesota State, Mackey played two years in the USHL for the Green Bay Gamblers. In the 2016-17 season, he was recognized as the league’s defenceman of the year for the most points and assists by a defenseman. With a lot of early success and the right type of exposure to NHL scouts, Mackey continued to add more awards to his hockey resume after completing his first pro season.

The present

Mackey finished up his junior year of collegiate hockey and acquainted himself further with the Flames in the summer of 2020 – he was invited to the bubble training camp despite not being eligible to play in the bubble playoffs. Because of the events around the COVID-19 pandemic and the uncertainty of continuation of professional sports at the time, his full-fledged Flames training camp debut was put on hold until early January 2021. While the camp was brief, Mackey came out hot and made a great first impression, earning a spot on the Flames taxi squad at the beginning of the season. He played his first game in the NHL against the Vancouver Canucks on Feb. 13 and stuck around with the Flames for the next two games against the Canucks and Oilers before being assigned to the Stockton Heat.
Due to travel restrictions, the journey to the Heat was not a very far one. The Heat temporarily relocated to Calgary for the 2020-21 and played their home games out of the Saddledome. It took a little longer for the Heat to get up and running in the AHL due to schedule changes, relocation and whole new division to play in, so their season did not kick off until Feb. 21. Mackey used that to his advantage to get his feet wet in the NHL before getting some time in the AHL.
Mackey took a couple games to get to know his new team but by the third game of the season, he already started to put up points with an assist on Adam Ruzicka’s goal against the Toronto Marlies on Feb. 24.
The Heat had a very hot and cold shortened season overall. They started the year with an eight-game winning streak early on, then finished with only three wins in their last 21 games. Even between blowouts and nail-biters, Mackey was still able to shine in his role as a top AHL defenceman. In 27 games with the Heat, Mackey earned three goals and 13 assists for a total of 16 points. That put him in fourth for team scoring between Luke Philp and Emilio Pettersen.
Once the Flames were pretty much statistically out of the playoffs, Mackey was called back to the taxi squad and got into the last three games of the season. Mackey has got to know the Canucks better than any other team in the league by this point as five out of his six NHL games so far have been played against the Flames rivals to the West. By the final game of the season, his ice time climbed to 19:41 and he scored his first NHL goal in the Flames’ 6-2 win against the Canucks.
After the completion of both the Heat’s and the Flames’ seasons, Mackey was given the opportunity to play at the international level. He was named to the USA roster at the IIHF World Championship. In seven games he earned one assist. It was no Andrew Mangiapane performance by any means, but he still came home with some hardware after defeating Germany in the bronze medal game.
While he was in Latvia, the AHL announced the regular season awards and Mackey made the list as the only Stockton Heat representative. He was named to the Canadian Division All-Star team alongside Laval defenseman, Otto Leskinen. Mackey was only one point off of Leskinen despite playing six less games. 

The future

As the expansion draft looms, there is a very real possibility the Flames may lose a defenseman. All signs point to Mark Giordano, but even so, Oliver Kylington is another Flame left exposed. Even if they don’t, Mackey was right on the cusp and got some games in to prove himself to the Flames coaching staff. A staff he will be much more familiar with going into the next season with former Stockton head coach Cail MacLean getting the promotion to the Flames as an assistant coach.
Mackey has shown at the NHL and AHL level he is not afraid of playing a physical game and keeps up with the pace of the best players in the sport. He could make a good defensive partner for Juuso Valimaki or if Michael Stone is still around come next season, they can continue the dynamic they had in Stockton briefly and again during the final Flames series of the season. With a good off-season partnered with an impressive Flames training camp, he could be right back on the opening night roster and more of a household name in the Flames hockey market.

2021 year in review

Milan Lucic | Andrew Mangiapane | Dillon Dube | Derek Ryan | Matthew Tkachuk | Chris Tanev | Jacob Markstrom | Sean Monahan | Mikael Backlund | Juuso Valimaki | Johnny Gaudreau | Mark Giordano | Nikita Nesterov | Elias Lindholm | Rasmus Andersson | Noah Hanifin

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