Updated: Jan 29, 2021
Mark Dekanich went through a lot during his hockey career. Experiencing all the highs and lows of playing professionally, Dekanich played for ten seasons in both North America and Europe, including time in the NHL, AHL, ECHL and the KHL before calling it a career.
Dekanich grew up in North Vancouver, just a stone's throw across the Vancouver Harbour from the Pacific Coliseum, then-home of the Canucks. The decision to play goalie came easily, strapping the pads on when his youth team needed a goalie.
"I was about ten years old, and my summer team needed a goalie," Dekanich said. "I was overweight around then and couldn't keep up with the rest of the guys. A lot of goalies who switched [from playing up] enjoyed the look of goalie pads and masks, so I switched to play goalie that summer, and I never played up again."
Dekanich played a few more years in youth hockey, including winning the Western Canadian Championship at the bantam level. When he was there, he got drafted by the Regina Pats in the WHL but passed that up to walk on as a member of the Coquitlam Express, spending two seasons there before joining Colgate University on scholarship. He enjoyed the campus a lot, citing that as one of the many reasons he joined the Raiders.
"[Colgate] was the first school to give me a fly down, and I got to meet all the coaches there," he said. "I loved the place the minute I set foot on campus. The classes were small, but the education was top-notch. They were the first school to offer me a full-ride, and I jumped at the opportunity."
At Colgate, Dekanich's sophomore season put him on the map, setting a school record of 988 saves, recording a .924 save percentage and a 2.29 GAA and starting 36 of 38 Raiders games. For his efforts, he was awarded the Ken Dryden ECAC Goalie of the Year Award. To this day, Dekanich is the only goalie in program history to win that honor. He was also named to the All-ECAC First Team, becoming the first Colgate goaltender to do so since 1990 and the third overall. The key to that season for Dekanich was knowing his abilities and being surrounded by a great group of players.
"That year was fun, I was fortunate to have a great group of guys in front of me and we all got along. We had some great players. Everything just fell into place."
His junior and senior seasons were arguably just as good, breaking his own single-season saves record (993) and making the All-ECAC Second Team in 2006-07 and breaking his saves record again (1043) in addition to making the All-ECAC Third Team in 2007-08. Dekanich still holds the Raiders' all-time record for shutouts (12) and save percentage (.923). You can also find his name scattered throughout the Colgate single-season record books as well. Getting the ability to play nearly every game following his freshman year was a big part of his success at Colgate.
"Just knowing that you're going to play night in and night out helps a lot with your confidence," Dekanich said. "Knowing that you can have a bad night but still be in net the next game is huge. Working hard every day in practice, in the weight room and on my schoolwork helped as well."
Before his junior season, Dekanich would get the call of a lifetime, being drafted 146th overall in 2006 by the Nashville Predators. He had a bit of an unconventional draft day moment, not knowing he was picked until a few hours later.
"It's funny, because that season, the draft was in Vancouver, but I wasn't even at home," Dekanich said. "After my sophomore season, my goalie partner and I accepted an internship at a financial firm, and we didn't have internet at our place because we were trying to save money. I didn't think I would go in the first day, but on the second day, me and my buddy were playing video games and my roommate from school texted me saying 'congratulations' and I had no idea what he was talking about since we didn't have internet. Sure enough, my agent called me after that message telling me that I had gotten picked by Nashville. I was ecstatic."
Mark played two more seasons at Colgate before inking his entry-level contract with Nashville. He would join the club's AHL affiliate, the Milwaukee Admirals, and carved out two great seasons before 2010-11, which would be the best season of his professional career. That season, in 46 games with the Admirals, he went 23-13-5 with a 2.02 goals-against average and a .931 save percentage in addition to four shutouts, setting single season Admirals records for GAA and SV% and having a shutout streak of 209:31, also a franchise record. He credits being able to figure out what to do during his free time as the most important thing for him to adjust to being a professional hockey player.
"Adjusting to the professional lifestyle and understanding what I needed to do in my free time to get prepared to play was important," he said. "I was pretty well-adjusted right away. Pro hockey players are professional time-wasters. If you're not playing, you have to figure out how to fill your time. Sometimes, that's hard for some guys to do as they play professionally."
That record-setting season would parlay into Dekanich's first call-up to the Predators on October 12 of that season, only spending five days with the club before being sent down. It was on December 3, however, that he would be called up for an extended stay after Pekka Rinne was sidelined with an injury, backing up Anders Lindback for two weeks. The call-up for Dekanich was a dream come true.
"It was a dream come true to be able to practice with [the Predators]," he said. "Once you're in the NHL, you realize that you're one of the top-sixty goalies in the world. I tried to make the most of my time there and learn from guys like Pekka Rinne."
Fifteen days after he got called up in December, Dekanich made his NHL debut, coming in relief of Anders Lindback in a 6-1 loss against Los Angeles, turning aside 22 of 25 in 50 minutes. For him, it was interesting getting thrown right into game action without getting prepared, but he was able to adjust as the game went along.
"I did not have a chance to prepare, because [Barry Trotz] threw me right into the game," Dekanich said. "Once I was out there, I just looked around and seeing guys like Ryan Smyth on the other team, and realized that I was in the NHL. The play started fast, but I remember by the second period I was able to adjust to it like it was a regular game."
Unfortunately for Dekanich, he would be sent down immediately following that game and never make it back to the NHL despite his strong performance at Milwaukee, even having to play the next night in Chicago to boot. Following that season, he was signed by Columbus but missed the majority of the season due to an ankle injury suffered in training camp. Not making it back to the NHL during his career was tough, but he is happy he still had that chance.
"Thinking back on it now, it was tough to realize I would never make it back," Dekanich said. "It was crushing to not get another opportunity especially working so hard to get that chance. I am thankful I was able to get that one game under my belt."
He signed with Winnipeg the next season and spent the entire year with St. John's in the AHL. He then signed into the KHL, heading overseas for the first time in his career and joining the then-new KHL team KHL Medveščak Zagreb and realizing just how good the competition was.
"The difference between the KHL and NHL is crazy," Dekanich said. "There are guys there that could dominate here, but they make way too much money to stay there, speak their language and play for their childhood team. Some players there are insane at hockey."
Dekanich played two seasons in Croatia, attempting to reclaim the dominance he had in the AHL, but realized that was challenging due to a knee injury he had suffered and was playing through it, and the results showed, posting an 0-10-0 record, 4.76 goals-against average and an .838 save percentage in 12 games with the team, so he knew knee surgery was the only option. Following that season, Dekanich returned to the United States and had trouble finding a job, but reached out to an old coach of his for help and eventually signed with the Hershey Bears, spending the season at their ECHL affiliate, the South Carolina Stingrays.
"No team wanted to sign me, [especially after the knee surgery]," Dekanich said. "Thankfully, I knew Mitch Korn, who was the goaltending coach of the Capitals at the time, ended up getting me a tryout [with the Capitals] and I signed an AHL contract with the Hershey Bears. We had a great team that season, and I had never have had so much fun. I think that was the season I knew that my window [to make the NHL again] was closed. I played so well that year and wasn't rewarded."
In the ECHL, Dekanich enjoyed the mentorship role of younger goalies, especially Vitek Vanecek, who is now getting his first chance at NHL action. Dekanich and Vanecek were goaltending partners in South Carolina.
"It was a lot of fun to mentor the younger guys, especially great kids like [Vitek]," Dekanich said. "Embracing that role was one of the reasons Mitch brought me in, and it was great to see him finally get that chance and play well in his first NHL game."
Dekanich played two more seasons professionally, playing with the Reading Royals before calling it a career. Playing goalie at such a high level is crazy, but rewarding, according to Dekanich.
"There's so much more to playing goalie than people see," he said. "People have no idea what it takes to play goalie, especially at a high level. We're all psycho. Your job is to get in front of 100 mph pucks. It sounds so stupid, but there is a lot more to it than the wannabe goalie coaches on social media see."
Following his career, Dekanich ditched the goalie gear for gym equipment, becoming a strength and conditioning coach for mostly goalies, literally throwing everything out but his skates. He believes the most satisfying thing is getting to give back to the game he loves.
"As soon as the season was over, I was studying for my strength and conditioning certificate, and attracted a lot of goalies right off the bat," Dekanich said. "I enjoyed that because I have always wanted to give back to the game of hockey. That's the most rewarding thing about it."
Dekanich is currently building his own private training studio and runs his strength and conditioning business, known as Dexshow High Performance. You can follow him on Instagram (@thedexshow) and Twitter (@dexshow).
You can listen to the full interview at any of the links found here.