A check presentation for $30,000, a goalie ceremonial face-off, and a six-round shoot-out win all happened during Saturday’s Grande Prairie Storm Lift the Mask game.
The night focused on and highlighted the work Storm goalie Connor Mackenzie has done this season with his “Lift the Mask” initiative where he has raised awareness about mental health and funds for the Canadian Mental Health Association Alberta Northwest Region (CMHA Northwest). Ahead of Saturday’s puck drop, Mackenzie presented the CMHA Northwest with a check for $30,000, the money he had raised to date. During the pre-game ceremony, Mackenzie was also presented with a plaque from the organization for the work he has done this season, and CMHA Northwest Executive Director Randy Arsenault announced the organization will be starting a “Lift the Mask” youth program, in honour of Mackenzie’s campaign this season.
The pre-game ceremony also included the playing of a “Lift the Mask” tribute video. The video included several messages from the likes of former GP Storm and current Vegas Golden Knights netminder Logan Thompson, Ottawa Senators goalie Cam Talbot, and former National Hockey League goalie and mental health advocate Clint Malarchuk.
“Congrats on Lift the Mask it’s a great cause, keep up on the good work, I’m looking forward to seeing what the future holds,” Thompson says in his video.
“I just wanted to congratulate you on all the money you have raised on your ‘Lift the Mask’ campaign, you know that is an incredible thing you are doing for mental health and I just wanted to congratulate you and tell you to keep up the good work,” Talbot says in his message.
“I’m so proud of you sir for ‘Lift the Mask’ the project you are doing young man, and we need more people like you,” Malarchuk says. “It is inspiring for me, as my journey with mental health and things I’ve been through – I am so proud. Thank you, Grande Prairie please support Connor.”
Mackenzie says receiving these messages was a very special experience he never expected, but hearing their words was an honour.
“These are some pretty big names in the goaltending world as well, it is pretty cool that they caught wind of it and they are on board with it,” Mackenzie says. “You know it means a lot that they appreciate what I am doing because all it takes is someone starting something and it just makes a big difference.”
Once the puck dropped Saturday, the game was one for the storybooks as the Storm were down 3 – 1 heading into the third period against the Drayton Valley Thunder. However, the Storm dug deep and rallied back, finding the back of the Thunders net two more times forcing a five-minute three-on-three overtime. Two minutes out of the five-minute extra frame the team worked together killing off a Thunder powerplay and it would take a shoot-out to decide the winner of this competition. Mackenzie saved five out of the six shots he faced, and the Storm would pull the win with Ayden Peters scoring the Storms’ winning goal. Mackenzie says no one could have scripted a better ending to the night.
“As a goalie, there is not much more you can do to win a game than a shoot-out, and of course, it just happened that way. I knew when it went to a shoot-out just some things are meant to be, and I knew it was going to work out the right way.”
Following the game, Mackenzie says he was feeling several emotions, including being happy and grateful for his teammates and the community. One of the parts of the night which sticks out for him is seeing students from the different schools he has gotten to go and talk with over the past few weeks in the stands.
“That was probably the best part honestly, I try to stay pretty focused during the games, but looking around – and seeing them wearing the hoodies with my campaign on them, it is a feeling that I can’t really describe but it is pretty cool, and I will never forget what I am feeling right now I will tell you that,” Mackenzie says.
During Saturday’s game the Storm wore specialty “Lift the Mask” jerseys which were auctioned off online, raising $8,500 for the campaign. Mackenzie has surpassed his original goal of $25,000, with two months left in the campaign. Online donations for “Lift the Mask” can be made until April 30th.