Sports

Erik Miksik stopped pucks from the pros at Ottawa Senators practice

Photo by Adam Feibel

It was a childhood dream come true when Erik Miksik stepped on the ice with the Ottawa Senators over reading week for a little taste of the big leagues.

“It’s exciting,” said the self-professed diehard Sens fan. “I was just like most Canadian kids growing up dreaming of playing in the NHL. It was kind of like living that dream for a day.”

The local goaltender filled in between the pipes the morning of Feb. 17 as the NHL team pressed on without its two regular netminders.

The Senators are missing Craig Anderson, who injured his hand in a 4-3 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs in January, and Robin Lehner, who left a Family Day matchup against the Carolina Hurricanes after a scary goalmouth collision with Senators winger Clarke MacArthur late in the second period that gave both players concussions.

That left the struggling Ottawa team with two emergency goalie call-ups: Andrew Hammond of the AHL’s Binghamton Senators hurled in the starter’s block, backed by Chris Driedger of the ECHL’s Evansville Icemen. But with Driedger travelling from Indiana, it was local boy Miksik that filled the cage at practice.

These days, Miksik studies commerce at the University of Ottawa while playing for beer league teams around town. The 22-year-old Kanata native previously played Junior B for four years, his most recent being with the Arnprior Packers last season. One year, he played on the same Stittsville Royals roster as Brandon Lee, the son of Senators assistant general manager Randy Lee. Miksik had been asked to come out to practice a couple of times before, but the timing was never right.

When he got the invite from Sens goalie coach Rick Wamsley over the study break, he had no reason to pass it up.

“It still feels pretty surreal to me,” said Miksik. “Everything that happened just seems like a blur.”

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Photo courtesy of Erik Miksik

He didn’t need to pinch himself afterward—not with a good bruise to prove it happened. Miksik had to ice his elbow after taking a hard shot from Jared Cowen. No kidding, considering the 24-year-old defenceman recorded the team’s hardest shot at this year’s All-Star Skills Competition with a 106.3-mph cannon.

“It’s that much faster and that much more precise,” Miksik said of the elite level. “I hadn’t even played in almost a month leading up to that … so I was simultaneously trying to get back into hockey mode as well as adapting to the level of play.”

Indeed, the Telfer student is at a crossroads. Now too old for the junior leagues and often caught up in his studies, hockey has taken a backseat this season. But Miksik isn’t ready to hang up the pads. With some luck he could wind up playing in Europe, he said.

Throughout the Senators’ practice, speculation swirled about who this mysterious Miksik was and who would be replacing Lehner for the Senators’ next game against the Montreal Canadiens. And unbeknownst to the last-minute fill-in, a hungry media scrum was waiting in the dressing room.

“That blew me away,” said Miksik. “I didn’t even expect it. I thought it was going to be just some guy filling in at practice, and then all of a sudden it was kind of a big deal too.”

Of course, it was always a big deal for Miksik, who can say he spent a day with the pro-leaguers—some fresh out of the farm team like Hammond and fellow call-up Shane Prince, others with all-star prestige like Bobby Ryan and Erik Karlsson—and realized, to a lifelong fan’s surprise, that they’re just normal guys.

“You look up to those guys, but then when you actually get face-to-face with them, they’re just like regular hockey players … It feels comfortable,” said Miksik. “I was drinking a coffee and watching SportsCentre, and Bobby Ryan walked in and just casually introduced himself, ‘Hi, I’m Bobby,’ and shook my hand. That was a weird moment, a guy like that introducing himself,” he said.

“It’s like that with all the guys. They’d walk up and introduce themselves, and in my head I’m just like yeah… I know exactly who you are.”