CALGARY, AB – It was a task unlike any other in his career to this point.
A mano-a-mano, high-speed showdown.
Fortunately, Connor Mackey is the type that embraces that challenge.
“A couple of years ago, maybe, I was a little hesitant against those players,” Mackey said of his battles with Connor McDavid on Friday in Edmonton. “Now, I’m more up to that challenge and I’m like, ‘Yeah, I want to shut these guys down.’ It’s definitely exciting being out against those players and it’s an opportunity I want to take full advantage of.
“And I think I did pretty well.”
Mackey has been a real bright spot for the Flames to this point, appearing in three preseason games and munching big minutes against top players. The 26-year-old – who’s entering his third pro camp after three years at Minnesota State – has done everything asked of him in his pursuit of a full-time spot on the Flames blueline. That includes Friday’s pulsating workload of 21-plus minutes, with nearly half coming against the NHL’s reigning Art Ross champ and two-time 50-goal scorer Leon Draisaitl.
Mackey defended them well in all situations, including on the penalty-kill, where the Oilers went oh-fer on three opportunities.
But the prevailing image – for this reporter, at least – was the bounty of rush attempts that were casually snuffed out by the stoic rearguard. McDavid, showcasing his unmistakeable and outlandish top-end speed, would gather velocity in the neutral zone, cut across the blueline and look to make a fool of the defenceman with a series of head fakes, crossovers and lively stick work.
But Mackey never bit.