McKenzie hopes to take flight with Caps

McKenzie hopes to take flight with Caps
July 12, 2012, 10:00 pm
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Its probably fair to say that every player attending the Capitals development camp this week has overcome an obstacle or two on their way to getting invited to Kettler Capitals Iceplex.

But getting dropped off in the middle of the Rocky Mountains for an entire week with just one meal in his backpack?

Adam McKenzie, a 22-year-old free agent defenseman from the Air Force Academy, is one of the most unlikely invitees to the Capitals camp, which continues through Saturday.

A year ago, he and eight other cadets were left in the mountains to the west of the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs with one simple instruction: Survive.

Halfway through, we split into groups of five and four, he said. I lost 14 pounds, dropped from 180 pounds to 166. It wasnt fun, I can tell you that.

Neither was six weeks of basic training two summers ago, a time McKenzie recalls being just miserable.

This week, thanks to Capitals scout Wil Nichol, McKenzie is spending a third of his three-week summer leave from the Academy trying to convince the Capitals hes good enough to sign to a pro contract.

McKenzie, a 5-foot-11, 175-pound native of Petaluma, Calif., was midway through his sophomore season at Air Force when he was introduced to Nichol following a game at Canisius College in Buffalo.

He came up to me and said hes been watching for a while and wanted to invite me to this camp, McKenzie said.

McKenzie finished the season with two goals and 16 assists in 39 games and despite being the first prospect out of Air Force to attend a Capitals rookie camp, he has not looked out of place.

There are things to improve on but I definitely feel comfortable here, McKenzie said. I dont feel Im playing out of my league at all.

As a northern Californian, McKenzie had to travel more than 50 miles to play in competitive leagues. He started in a Santa Rosa B program, moved up to play at Tri Valley and played Triple A midget hockey for the San Jose Junior Sharks.

After graduating from high school, McKenzie played two years under former NHL defenseman Paul Baxter with the Wenatchee Wild of the North American Hockey League, then enrolled at the Air Force Academy.

Although hes never flown an F-16, McKenzie said the Air Force hockey team travels by cargo plane.

Well sit in jump seats the whole way, he said. Its not the most comfortable, but it gets us there quick.

McKenzie said this is his second trip to the D.C. area. Two years ago he toured Andrews Air Force Base and attended two Nationals games.

At both of them they gave military there long standing ovations, he said. You absolutely get that kind of respect here.

McKenzie plans on returning to play another two seasons for Air Force, but wouldnt mind spending part of his three-week leave next summer at another Capitals development camp in Arlington.

Id absolutely give that up to be here, he said. This has been an amazing experience and something Ive always dreamed about.