After quickly transforming his club from a last place ranking to third in their conference, the Kitchener Rangers announced on Thursday a three-year extension for Mike McKenzie.
As per the Rangers press release, McKenzie’s extension is set to expire at the end of the 2024-25 season. McKenzie, the team’s GM, was thrown for loop dating back to November when Jay McKee was relieved of his duties, this following three seasons as Kitchener’s bench boss.
At the time of Jay McKee’s firing, the Rangers were last in the Western Conference, meanwhile, the OHL franchise was struggling immensely, dropping 10 straight games. Since the 25th of November, the Rangers GM has set the hockey club straight as Kitchener went on to add Serron Noel, this proving to be a game changing transaction.
A short time after the coaching change, Kitchener began to break out with their A-game as the team went on to win ten straight games, this spiking an uproar with the Rangers internally. Stepping in for Jay McKee, Mike McKenzie was added to Kitchener’s history as he promptly became the team’s fifth head coach, this dating back to 2013.
Since filling the void for Kitchener, the Rangers GM has racked some stellar numbers, having won a total of 33 games while dropping nine on the bench in the interim. In a statement from Steve Bienkowski, Kitchener Rangers COO and governor, he said on Thursday following the signing, “In March 2017, Mike was announced as the Rangers’ General Manager as he had clearly demonstrated a work ethic and skill set that would provide him the opportunity to climb the ranks in the OHL.”
Having led Kitchener back to the playoffs, McKenzie found himself proving just that. When speaking of McKenzie’s character and the relentless leadership he brings to the Rangers, Bienkowski said, “During the last three seasons, my opinion has been further cemented watching his draft, recruitment and management skills. He has demonstrated both a caring side for our players and staff and, at the same time, understood he is also responsible for making difficult decisions at times; both necessary skills of a senior leader of any organization.”
McKenzie has been with the Rangers in different capacities since 2012, having started as assistant to Steve Spott before climbing the ranks to his role as executive. When speaking of the urge to sign him given the time McKenzie served to the Rangers, Bienkowski concluded by his statement by saying, “Mike had two years remaining on his original contract and the organization is excited to have reached an extension agreement. Mike and his family have made a further commitment to the Kitchener Rangers and our community that will extend through the 2024-25 season.”
McKenzie spoke a short time after to discuss his content of staying long-term with Kitchener where he said of the honour to sign on for three years, “I can’t express how excited I am to continue my journey with the Rangers. The Rangers organization and Kitchener-Waterloo community holds a special place in my heart and always will. I have learned so much and met so many great people in my time here.”
Speaking to greater lengths of those people, the list includes his many players and coaching staff. McKenzie took the job as GM in replacement of Murray Hiebert back in 2017 and since that time, has shown his tireless work ethic while bringing top talent to southeastern Ontario. Amongst the list he has worked on is Michael Vukojevic, Kitchener Rangers defensemen. Vukojevic was one of McKenzie’s first ever picks in the OHL Priority Selection.
Today, the native of Oakville is an NHL prospect with the New Jersey Devils. Adding to McKenzie’s success, three additional Rangers are among the prospects named in the NHL Central Scouting list for the NHL Draft. This includes Donovan Sebrango, Ville Ottavainen and Reid Valade.
When speaking of Kitchener’s talent and the road he has taken with the Rangers to get here, McKenzie said, “I am very proud of the steps we have taken as an organization while I have been here and look forward to continuing to add to the legacy of the Kitchener Rangers Hockey Club. It is an honour and privilege to work for this organization and I am extremely excited and proud I can continue this journey with the Rangers.”
McKenzie found himself in this position after spending three years with the assistant coach title. Once McKenzie showed what he was capable of, he was promoted to assistant general manager just prior to the 2015-16 season. Having come this far since that time, McKenzie has plenty to very proudly reflect on.
Most recently in 2018, the Rangers appeared in the Western Conference final. This of course came while owning the fourth-best record in the Ontario Hockey League. Fast forward to the season now passed, the Kitchener Rangers finished with honourable mention in the top 10 ranking of the Canadian Hockey League.
Unfortunately for McKenzie and the Rangers, this season ended early due to COVID-19. With that being said, the playoffs were cancelled by the league on Tuesday. As such, Kitchener says goodbye to Greg Meireles, Jonathan Yantsis, Liam Hawel and Riley Damiani. As well, moving up next season is Serron Noel, Axel Bergkvist and Jacob Ingham. To fill those gaps on the roster, the Kitchener Rangers are set to pick 17th overall at this year’s OHL Priority Selection.
This comes after finishing the season with a record of 40-16-5-2. Before the season came to a halt, the Kitchener Rangers had five games left, three of which would have been played on home ice at The Aud.