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MacEwen's journey to the NHL a 'feel good story' of dedication and perseverance

Utica Comets forward Zack MacEwen made his NHL debut with the Vancouver Canucks, registering an assist, less than two full calendar years after signing as an undrafted free agent.

Posted: Feb 13, 2019 1:03 AM
Updated: Feb 13, 2019 1:07 AM

Utica, N.Y. - Zack MacEwen signed an entry-level contract as a largely unknown, undrafted free agent with the Vancouver Canucks on March 4, 2017. On February 11, 2019, MacEwen slid into the Canucks lineup for his National Hockey League debut.

MacEwen's unlikely journey to the NHL culminated in him registering his first career NHL point, an assist, in a 7-2 loss to the San Jose Sharks at Rogers Arena in Vancouver on Monday.

"[It's] not the result we're looking for in any hockey game, but getting rewarded with an assist late in the game is a bit of a relief for sure," said MacEwen after logging 9:45 in ice time to begin his career. "Especially with my family in the building, for them to see that is a great feeling."

In addition to assisting on Derrick Pouliot's third period goal, MacEwen registered two shots, had a couple of scoring opportunities, was credited for a hit and blocked a shot. It was a long time coming for a kid who was once thought of as a 'waste of a contract.'

"It's a great story about a kid who was a little bit late developing and he's a guy who I still think is yet to his potential," said Comets head coach Trent Cull after practice at the Adirondack Bank Center on Tuesday. "I think it's just a feel good story all the way around. He's just a great kid, he comes from a great family."

His Comets teammates, who have watched him grow beside them on the ice over the past season and a half, have taken notice to his budding career as well.

"He's had his critics and I think he's silenced a lot of them," said Comets defenseman Jaime Sifers. "I'm proud of Zack. From day one he's stepped in and he's had his eye on the prize. He wants to be an NHL player and last night he took his first step. I was able to watch the game and I'm just so proud of him."

MacEwen had a big weekend for the Comets prior to his call-up to the big club. In two games, Friday against the Lehigh Valley Phantoms and Saturday against the Rochester Americans, MacEwen racked up a goal and five assists, with four points coming in the latter alone.

It's something that Comets personnel have gotten used to seeing from the 6'4" 22-year-old forward from Prince Edward Island in Canada.

"He applies himself every day around here, he's a great person, he's a great character guy to be around the team and for a young guy he's well beyond his years," Sifers said. "He's obviously a beast out there, he's having a heck of a year, he's tough as nails and I'd have him on my team any day of the week."

Following the game on Saturday, the Comets hopped on a bus bound for Bridgeport, Connecticut where they were to face the Sound Tigers on Sunday afternoon. It was there, in the wee hours of the morning, that MacEwen learned of his much-anticipated fate.

"I let [General Manager] Ryan Johnson call him and let him know," said Cull. "From there, Zack and I just exchanged some texts because it was two o'clock in the morning. I looked back and saw him still awake with the light on, so I was really happy for him and I knew he was on cloud nine."

With a whirlwind couple of days, flying from coast-to-coast to compete in a game he's waited his whole life to play, MacEwen was excited to now have it under his belt.

"It was nice to get the first one over with and kind of feel, especially at home, what it's all about and just relax to settle in and play my own game now," MacEwen said. "Once I got my feet under me and kind of calmed the nerves a bit after the first period, I started settling in and feeling better"

In 49 games this year for the Comets, MacEwen has scored 17 goals and registered 25 assists. He was third on the team in points at the time of his call-up, which clearly caught the eye of the Canucks.

MacEwen's journey to this point defines the purpose of the American Hockey League, to mold the next crop of NHL talent. While the Comets would love to have him back here contributing to their success during the postseason push, they know what this moment up in the NHL means to him and his career.

"[For me] it's a bit of a proud papa moment," said Cull. "Zack came to us last year and he's a kid who deserves a ton of credit. He's worked hard at transforming his game, his body, everything and I think he's done a great job. He's a feel good moment because he's a great kid and all you want is nothing but the best for him."

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