By Derek Holtom
MJHL Web Correspondent
Hailing from the extremely small community of Vista – located in the RM of Rossburn – Mackenzie Belinski is actually mentioned in the opening paragraph of the Wikipedia entry for Vista.
“Vista is a community in Manitoba. It is located in the Rural Municipality of Rossburn. Home of Regina Pats prospect Mackenzie Belinski who also went first Overall in the 2015 MJHL Draft,” stated Wikipedia.
“Yes, I’ve seen that,” admitted the 18-year-old forward with the Neepawa Natives. “Some of the guys (on the team) bug me about that a bit, but the older people in my hometown enjoy talking to me about hockey. I don’t mind that – I like talking to them.”
Vista is an extremely small hamlet in rural Manitoba – maybe 20 people large on a busy day. Belinski’s family farms nearby, and that’s where he got his hockey start.
Those skills he learned on the rink back home have served him well – Belinski is enjoying a breakout sophomore season with the Natives. He already has 32 points in 27 games, eclipsing his 31-point rookie season from a year ago.
“Yes, things are going well for me personally this year,” said Belinski, who describes himself as a playmaker who likes to get his teammates the puck. “I’ve got better chemistry with my line mates this year and it’s paying off.”
“But we need to turn things around as a team – that’s the most important thing right now.”
The Natives are coming off a 25-win season where they finished a few points out of the playoffs in what was an extremely competitive year. Hopes were high for a push back into the playoffs this season, but the Natives currently sit in last place in the MJHL with just seven wins in their first 29 games.
Putting up strong personal numbers (Belinski was tied for seventh in league scoring heading into the start of December) doesn’t mean as much if your team isn’t winning.
“The personal stats, they’ll come,” he said during a break from his job at the arena in Neepawa, which should tell you just how much enjoy being at the rink. “But we need to come together as a team.”
The impressive part of Belinski’s performance this year is that he’s scoring at such a high rate when every other team knows he’s the driver of this team – even at just 18 years of age. Belinski’s 32 points means he has scored or chipped in on 42 per cent of his team’s offense.
Belinski was also a draft pick of the WHL’s Regina Pats, but an injury kept him out of their lineup in his rookie year, and he has since played a few exhibition games with the Prince Albert Raiders. But Belinski is committed to helping turn around the Neepawa Natives, and then seeing how far hockey can take him
“I’d like to go the next level – maybe start with CIS so I have something to fall back on,” he said.