ONTARIO, CA — Even though the stereotype of hockey being nothing more than players fighting is still fairly strong among those who are unfamiliar with the game, those who follow it know that the frequency of fisticuffs in games has been on the decline for years and years. In fact, one can go weeks of watching games and never see a single fight.
Years ago, teams had a roster spot for an enforcer, a player whose only real talent was dropping the gloves and trying to clobber the other team’s enforcer. But today, National Hockey League teams cannot afford to reserve a roster spot for a one-dimensional player whose only skill is fighting. Indeed, today’s “enforcer,” if you can call the player that anymore, must be able to play the game.
Enter Los Angeles Kings defenseman prospect Kurtis MacDermid, who is now in his first professional season with the Ontario Reign of the American Hockey League.
To rewind a bit, MacDermid went undrafted in 2012, but was a Kings training camp invitee that summer. He turned enough heads among Kings management and was signed as an unrestricted free agent on September 12, 2012, to a three-year, entry-level contract.
The 21-year-old, 65, 222-pound native of Sauble Beach, Ontario, has displayed the kind of balance in his game that a guy who is well-known for dropping the gloves must have in today’s game. To illustrate, last season, with the Erie Otters of the Ontario Hockey League, MacDermid scored eight goals and added 32 assists for 40 points, with 129 penalty minutes and a +20 plus/minus rating in 61 regular season games.
Through seven games with the Reign, MacDermid has contributed two assists and has a +5 plus/minus rating, with eleven penalty minutes, which includes one fighting major.
Reign head coach Mike Stothers likes what he sees from MacDermid, so far.
“I see an extremely large man who can get around the ice pretty well,” he said. “He’s making some plays for us, and he’s definitely a tough individual. But he’s working on all aspects of his game, and I think that’s important.”
“The big thing in hockey now is size, and he does bring that,” added Stothers. “But I think he can play, and I think that’s what’s most important. We know how tough he is. We just want to make sure Kurtis is playing, and playing well, making plays. [We want him] to be a hockey player, not just a guy who’s a physical presence.”
Stothers also pointed out that despite MacDermid’s reputation for being a tough guy, he is a very composed individual.
“I think he’s got good composure for a young guy,” Stothers noted. “Things happen quickly out there, and he seems to be real composed. He’s a real focused individual. He’s in tremendous shape. Every year, when he comes into camp, he’s one of the leaders in fitness.”
MacDermid indicated that to this point in his first season as a pro, things are going well.
“I think it’s gone pretty well, so far,” he said. “There’s going to be some things I need to work on, being a young guy coming into this league. I’ve just got to keep working hard on getting better every day.”
When asked to identify what he needs to work on, MacDermid, said, “Speed and footwork. Guys are a lot faster at this level, so I’ve got to learn the ins and outs of this league.”
“[I need to] just keep going, play hard and play physical,” MacDermid added. “[Coach Stothers] wants me to] keep making the little plays, and keep working hard.”
Stothers indicated that, as a first-year pro, MacDermid is in the same boat as a lot of young players.
“It’s like all the young guys,” Stothers observed. “It’s just experience. It’s just that he has to adjust to the pace. It’s a little tougher for a defenseman, and it’s even tougher for a bigger guy to get that big frame moving up and down the ice. But you know what? I think he’s done a good job, and I think he’ll continue to improve with us. I think the fact that he’s been paired with [AHL veteran defenseman Vincent] Loverde helps his development, as well.”
“He’s very driven,” he added. “He wants to be a hockey player. This kid wants to play badly. He wants to play in the NHL, and he’s going to work as hard as he can to maker sure that [dream] comes true.”
LEAD PHOTO: Los Angeles Kings defenseman prospect Kurtis MacDermid (right), shown here during the 2015 Rookie Tournament against the Arizona Coyotes at the Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo, California, September 15, 2015. Photo: David Sheehan/CaliShooterOne Photography,
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