Connor Mackey was invited to the Calgary Flames; summer prospect camp in 2017 following his final year of junior hockey and prior to starting his college hockey career at Minnesota State.
“I got a little taste there,” he said. “That started the whole process.”
On Friday, Mackey officially joined the Flames, signing a one-year contract with the NHL team following three seasons with the Mavericks.
Mackey, long considered one of the top free agents in college hockey, became the third Minnesota State defenseman to turn pro after his junior year.
“It’s been a crazy past couple of days,” Mackey said in a phone interview from his parents’ home in the Chicago area. “There have been a lot of calls — with my dad, my agent — but it’s been good. Crazy, but exciting.”
Mackey, 23, could have turned pro following his sophomore season. But after taking a week to think about it, opted to return to Minnesota State for another year. Prior to his junior season, he met with representatives with seven teams, including Calgary.
“I had built a relationship with (the Flames) and was comfortable with them,” Mackey said. “That hasn’t changed since Day 1. When I made my decision to come back to school, they respected that. …
“I wanted to be part of that organization. I’m pumped.”
The 6-foot-2, 205-pound Mackey was a First Team All-WCHA pick this season, scoring 24 points, including seven goals, in 36 games. He fell one point shy of his career high in points, although his 25 points last season came in 42 games. His plus-minus of plus-23 was tops in the WCHA and ranked tied for sixth in the country.
"He's prepared; he's ready — mentally, physically, his game," Mavericks coach Mike Hastings said. "He's a minutes-eater. Our power play had success this year with him being on top of that. He was on our penalty kill. He's got length, he's physical, he's got an edge. ... His exits — his ability to get the puck out of the zone with his feet and his decision making — those defensemen are hard to find."
In his three-year career at Minnesota State, Mackey had 61 points in 118 games as he helped the Mavericks win three MacNaughton Cups and one Jeff Sauer Trophy.
His totals included 18 goals, none bigger than the game-tying goal he scored with 56 seconds remaining in regulation in the 2019 WCHA championship game against Bowling Green. That was the second of two extra-attacker goals by the Mavericks the final two minutes to tie the game. Minnesota State then went on to win the Jeff Sauer Trophy in overtime.
“There are so many highlights,” Mackey said, “but just the guys, being in the room, going to battle with the guys and all the championships we won. … There were a lot of special moments.”
Mackey was Third Team All-WCHA as a sophomore and made the All-WCHA Rookie Team as a freshman.
Mackey joins Daniel Brickley, who signed with the Los Angeles Kings in 2018, and Casey Nelson, who signed with the Buffalo Sabres in 2016, in a group of MSU defensemen who opted to forego their senior seasons to turn pro.
Mackey’s signing comes one day after teammate Marc Michaelis signed a one-year contract with the Vancouver Canucks.
"Looking at both (Mackey and Michaelis), they had the opportunity to do this a year ago," Hastings said. "It speaks to their mindset of patience and maturity."
Mackey’s father, David Mackey, had a long pro hockey career that included 126 games in the NHL with the Chicago Blackhawks, Minnesota North Stars and St. Louis Blues.
Follow Shane Frederick on Twitter @puckato