A little more than a year after Mike McKenna learned that Portland would lose its professional hockey team – “just the worst news I’ve ever gotten in my life” – the former Pirates goaltender finds himself in the American Hockey League’s Calder Cup finals for the first time.

A late-season trade sent McKenna to the Syracuse Crunch, who have put him in net for all 18 games of their playoff run. The Crunch trail Grand Rapids 2-0 in the best-of-seven championship series that resumes Wednesday night in Syracuse, New York.

Grand Rapids won the first two games at home, 3-2 on Friday night and 6-5 in double overtime Saturday night.

“They’ve been incredibly close games,” McKenna said. “We just haven’t been on the winning side of it yet. But we know we’re right there.”

No other goalie won as many games (84) in a Pirates uniform as McKenna.

Now 34, he chalked up a milestone 200th AHL victory in February while still with the Springfield Thunderbirds, the former Pirates franchise.

David Alexander, the Syracuse goaltender coach who spent five years in a similar capacity for the University of Maine under Tim Whitehead, said McKenna’s arrival helped calm the Crunch, who beat St. John’s 3-1, Toronto 4-3 and Providence 4-1 in the first three rounds. McKenna made more than 30 saves in four of the five games against Providence in the conference finals and has a 2.66 postseason goals-against average.

“We have young prospects, and sometimes when you’re looking for a deep playoff run, it’s nice to have some veteran consistency in net,” Alexander said.

“Mike’s a pro. His studious approach has allowed him to keep playing.”

This winter also included McKenna’s 400th game in the AHL (over 12 seasons) and 500th as a professional. Only 14 goalies have reached the 200-victory mark in the 81-year history of the AHL, and McKenna, a native of St. Louis, is the only one born in the United States.

Through it all, McKenna has worn jersey No. 56, his dad’s number from his years driving open-wheel race cars.

Less than a week after notching his 200th win, McKenna triumphed in another arena dear to his heart. A noted foodie who last March penned a restaurant review for the Portland Press Herald, McKenna won a live cooking competition in Springfield by creating a burger topped with his own maple-shallot-date jam, sharp white cheddar cheese, bacon, baby arugula and roasted garlic aioli on a butter toasted Kaiser roll.

“If you boil it down, it was a glorified bacon cheeseburger,” McKenna said. “I came up with the concept and our guys all showed up and stuffed the ballot box to make sure I won.”

The following week, McKenna received a call from Florida Panthers assistant general manager Eric Joyce informing him he had been traded to the Tampa Bay organization for Adam Wilcox, a 24-year-old goalie. Tampa Bay assigned McKenna to Syracuse.

“It was a welcome trade in that I was going to a team that was getting ready for a playoff run,” McKenna said. “So having a chance to go to the playoffs was exciting because we were out of it in Springfield. But from a family standpoint, it’s never easy.”

McKenna and his wife, Rachel, have two daughters. Kenlin turned 4 last month and Adeline, who was born in Maine last February, is 1. A bonus in the move to Syracuse was that Rachel’s brother, Chris, lives there.

“It took us a week and a half to two weeks before we got settled,” McKenna said. “But once we did, it was like any other season. We made new friends. The kids are incredibly flexible. It’s one big adventure to them.”

Kenlin was particularly disappointed when the Pirates were sold and moved because it meant she wouldn’t be returning to the home in Scarborough’s Pine Point the family had leased, near the mouth of the Nonesuch River where she regularly saw seals and bald eagles. Over the AHL All-Star break in late January, McKenna brought his family back to Maine.

“We ate lobster rolls sitting on a boat ramp next to the house we lived at,” McKenna said. “We just reminisced and realized how lucky we were to live there for a couple years. We made some lifelong friends in Portland.”

Syracuse is 9-0 at War Memorial Arena in this season’s playoffs. After Game 3 Wednesday, Game 4 is scheduled for Friday and Game 5, if necessary, on Saturday. Any remaining games in the best-of-seven series would return to Grand Rapids.

This summer, McKenna becomes an unrestricted free agent. The family will return home to St. Louis and make a decision about what comes next.

“I’m always thinking about the future, because you never know when this journey’s going to end,” McKenna said. “I don’t want to stop playing hockey. I think I’ve got a couple more good seasons in me.”

Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or:

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