Ben McCartney and Tucson Roadrunners are on the road to the postseason.
The club has 16 games remaining in the American Hockey League season and currently occupies the final playoff position in their division. McCartney says if they play to their strengths, they should have no problem qualifying for the postseason.
"It's pretty much about playing as a team. Right now, we have some injury problems, and some guys have been called up. It's just about playing within the system and playing for each other. If everyone is working together good things will happen," McCartney continues. "Every game counts. In the locker room, everyone knows that our backs are against the wall. We just have to know what we have to bring every day and do that."
McCartney, originally hailing from Macdonald, is one of the players dealing with the injury bug right now. He just had meniscus surgery this week.
"I've had problems with it in the past but these past couple of weeks, I re-injured it pretty bad," McCartney explains. "It was just a minor surgery, so I got it all done, and the recovery time will be a few weeks. I'll be ready to go for playoffs. It's just something I needed to get done."
This will be the third time this season McCartney will miss games due to an injury but he says if you don't get hurt once in a while, you're probably not playing hard enough.
"It's just a little adversity. This year, I've learned a lot of things in the mental part of the game. I'll take this experience this year and carry it on through my future. Every hockey player goes through these types of things. My old man says, 'If you don't get injured in the game of hockey, you aren't playing the game right.' So, that's just how it went this year but my head is still high, and I'm excited to get back out there."
McCartney says coming back from an injury is all about your mentality. He notes it can be tough initially as oftentimes players will avoid contact in an area that had been injured but the forward adds, as long as you trust yourself and play with confidence, good things happen.
The Macdonald product is having an impressive season with the Arizona Coyotes affiliate squad. McCartney has eight goals and seven assists through 43 games, which is down from his 35-point season last year, however, he says that is mainly due to a role change.
"Last year, I was able to play a few more minutes. This year I'm adapting to the role of being able to shut down other team's top line and being able to play a full 200-foot game," McCartney continues. "If I want to play in the NHL one day, these are the things I have to master. Being able to be trusted is all I'm trying to do. It's been a really developmental year."
While the offensive production is down for McCartney, his +/- is up twelve points from last season, showing his improvement on the defensive end of the ice.
"Playing defence in our zone and the other team's zone (is the biggest addition to his game). Let's say you're in the offensive zone, and you make a turnover below the goal line. That's going to affect the defensive zone because that team will go up on the rush and maybe have a 3-on-2. It's not just about thinking defensively in the D-zone. It's about being defensive-minded in the O-zone, also. That's one thing I've really worked on this year that has gotten a lot better."
The AHL is the second-highest level of hockey in North America but McCartney still has the ultimate goal of becoming a mainstay in the NHL. He believes he has to continue improving in all aspects of the game to get there. McCartney notes there are a few players at the next level he watches and has modelled his game after.
"I enjoy watching Matthew Tkachuk and Brady Tkachuk, too. The Tkachuk brothers are just unbelievable," says McCartney. "On Boston, I really like Nick Foligno's game. He plays a great role. Really, everyone on the bottom two lines of that Boston Bruins team. They know their roles so well. That's why their team is winning a whole bunch of games."
The 21-year-old forward is in his second full season with Tucson and hopes to help them advance in the playoffs for the first time during his tenure. The Roadrunners wrap up their regular season on April 15.