The potential starting goalie of Team Croatia in the next few years could very well be current Medvescak Zagreb netminder Mark Dekanich. The North Vancouver native stands tall at 6'2 and is currently gearing up for his second season overseas in the KHL.
Dekanich played his junior hockey for the Coquitlam Express of the BCHL for two seasons before taking the NCAA route instead of major junior hockey when he spent four years playing for Colgate University. He was a fifth round (146th overall) selection of the Nashville Predators in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft and spent three seasons with the Predators’ AHL affiliate the Milwaukee Admirals before finally getting a call up to the big club on December 3rd 2010. He didn't make his NHL debut until December 18th 2010 when he played 50 minutes in relief of starter Anders Lindback against the Los Angeles Kings.
On July 3rd 2011, Mark signed a one-way, one-year contract with the Columbus Blue Jackets in what was supposed to be his big breakthrough to the NHL. Unfortunately though, his entire season was hindered thanks in part to a a delay in treating an ankle injury suffered before he signed with Columbus.
The initial injury happened back in his time with the Milwaukee Admirals and was misdiagnosed by both Nashville and Columbus doctors. Near the end of the season, Mark finally had major reconstructive surgery to repair a torn deltoid ligament on the inside of his ankle. And after two months on crutches and four months without even skating, Dekanich signed a two-way contract with the Winnipeg Jets and spent the 2012-13 season with the St. John's Ice Caps of the AHL.
Dekanich would go on to have a great bounce back season with the Ice Caps going 16-14-1 in 35 games with two shutouts. During the summer, Mark explored his options and wound up making use of his Croatian heritage when he signed in the KHL with Medvescak Zagreb.
Already equipped with a Croatian passport, Dekanich could very well be seen between the pipes for Team Croatia in the near future.
IIHF.com asked Mark Dekanich some questions.
How did you get into hockey?
I started skating at 3 years old and playing hockey at 5. I guess you can that's a pretty normal childhood for most Canadians!
How did you become a goalie?
My summer team needed a goalie when I was 10 years old and I volunteered. I never went back to skater after that.
Describe your playing style?
I'm an athletic guy who likes to use that ability. I pride myself on not being a robot and really try to read and react to plays instead of just trying to plug holes or play percentages.
How did playing college hockey at Colgate prepare you for the professional game?
I loved being a student-athlete at Colgate. It was the next logical step in my hockey career and it really helped me learn how to manage myself and my game.
Any fond memories of your time last year in St. Johns (AHL)?
I had a lot of fun times with the boys on the rock. Hockeywise, it was definitely the toughest in my career. I faced a lot of adversity that season but still came out with a winning record. I think that is a testament to my mental toughness and determination to continuously prove people wrong.
What would you consider some of your best moments in hockey so far?
Winning the Western Canadians in Bantam was great. That was the last time I won a championship. Getting drafted to the NHL is up there as well. I think my favorite memory of all time was signing my first one-way contract with Columbus and then getting married the next day. What a weekend!
How has the transition of living now in Europe (Zagreb)?
It was a little bit of an adjustment at first but I love it now. Life is different over here. Everything runs at a different pace. Zagreb is a great city - great people, beautiful place, great food.
How happy are you to be playing in such a very high level of hockey such as the KHL?
Its great to be playing in the KHL. It's an excellent league. I can be effective in this league and I still think I can be at the NHL level as well. Hockey is a funny thing - we will see where it takes me.
Would you ever consider coming back to North America and taking another crack at making the NHL?
I definitely would if an opportunity arose. I would love to make it full time in the NHL but right now I'm just taking it one game at a time, trying to improve every day.
Do you see Croatian hockey on the rise right now with a KHL team?
Yes, I think it's definitely good exposure for the country right now that we have a KHL team; however, when Medvescak played in the EBEL they created a buzz around the sport. There is a vast hockey history in Zagreb.
Do you plan on representing the Croatian National Team soon since you already have a passport?
We are working on it, it would be amazing to play in international competition.
Are lots of players on your team getting Croatian passports in hopes of being naturalized to play for the National Team in the future?
We have a bunch of guys with Croatian heritage so it will be interesting to see how it plays out. Again, it would be great to be eligible for international play.
How are the crowds in Zagreb compared to other KHL cities?
Amazing. We might not have the most, but they definitely are the best. Dom Sportova is packed every game and the chants and songs are unbelievable. Makes for a lot of fun playing at home!
Childhood Idols: Felix Potvin, Curtis Joseph, Bill Ranford
Video Game: Diablo 3
Movie: Happy Gilmore or Billy Madison
TV Show: Lost
Pump-Up Song: Any Eminem, new or old
Activity away from the rink: Walking our two pugs, Romeo and Balthazar
Teammate: College goalie partner Justin "The Moose" Kowalkoski