Penticton’s Mark MacMillan, a former Alberni Valley Bulldog, Penticton Vee and recent University of North Dakota grad, completed his first year of pro hockey in the American Hockey League. MacMillan is a Montreal Canadiens prospect who played for the St. John’s Ice Caps. The Western News caught up with him to talk about his first pro season.
Western News: What was it like from your perspective?
Mark MacMillan: It was good. It was a learning experience for me. I came off my injury at the end of my senior year. I didn’t play much at the start of the year. Got sent down to the East Coast Hockey League and played six games down there. It was good to kind of get my feet under me and get back on the ice. Play some games down there and then when I got called back up, I was pretty happy with the rest of my season (six goals and 17 points in 62 games played). Kind of took it day-by-day and really used it as a learning experience.
WN:What did you notice the difference in play going from college to the AHL?
MM:I think a big thing is kind of, I guess, the structure of it. In college hockey you are only playing two games a week. On Fridays and Saturdays. We played the same team every weekend. The way you prepare for games is a little different. We
focus on the same team all week in college. You have Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday to kind of rest and recover between games. Whereas in pro hockey, its a 70-plus game schedule. You might play Tuesday and then Friday and Saturday and then again on Tuesday. The preparation is different. I think because of all those games, the way the game is played is a little different as far as in college. There is a lot more run and gun. Every game is really, really intense because you only play 36 games a year. With the 70 game schedule, it’s harder to play that run-and-gun game.
WN:Playing those six games in the East Coast Hockey League, did you find that to be a good transition to the AHL?
MM:Yeah, for sure a little bit. I think the biggest thing for me that it helped me out with was getting back into game mode. My last game before I played down there was Feb. 29, 2015 when I hurt my knee. The best part for me of it was getting back into things and playing games. You can skate all you want, practice all you want. There is nothing quite the same as playing games.
WN:Who are some of the guys that you played with most?
MM:Jeremy Gregoire, he was my right winger for a lot of the year. Developed some chemistry by the end of the year. One guy we played with was Brandon McNally. He was also a rookie. When John Scott was there, I played with him a little bit. It was interesting. He’s a really funny guy. You see his personality through all the media and everything. Especially this year with the All-Star Game. It was a cool experience to be a part of. He’s a fun guy to have on the team for sure.
WN: Who were some of the skilled guys on the team that really impressed you?
MM:We had a lot of change over this year. We had 51 guys play for us this year. Just because of a bunch of injuries up in Montreal. Sven Andrighetto, who actually ended up playing in Montreal for most of the year, started the year on our team. He is from Switzerland. He’s a really skilled guy. Went up and had some success in Montreal. Bud
Holloway. He played the last few years in Europe and came back over and signed with Montreal. He led our team in points this year. He was fun to watch. Charlie Hudon was our leading goal scorer this year. He had quite the shot. Quite a way to score goals.
WN:You probably learned a lot from watching those guys?
MM:Yeah, for sure. I think there’s lots of guys you can learn things from and not necessarily just those skill guys. Our captain this year, Gabriel Dumont, he has been in the organization for four or five years. He was a fun guy to watch and learn from. He always went out and competed every night. Was on our power play, on our penalty kill, out at important times to take important face-offs. He was one guy I liked to learn from. One guy who actually wasn’t with us for really long was Eric Neilson. I learned a lot from him. He played six games with us. He was on a professional tryout contract while he was with us. One of the greatest guys I’ve ever met. He’s probably the best teammate I’ve ever seen. Really had a way to gel with the guys.
WN:What kinds of things are you focused on this summer to be ready for next year?
MM:A big thing for me is my strength. It’s kind of always been a key for me in the off season. Especially this year, playing against pro guys, big strong guys. Not having that summer last year maybe didn’t allow me to strengthen quite as much as I would have wanted to. Just lots of gym time and making sure I’m doing the right things in the gym.
WN:What were some of the aspects of your game that you were happy with that you did in the American Hockey league?
MM:By the end of the year I was killing lots of penalties, and the coach started putting me out in all situations with winning face offs, especially on my strong hand side. That was encouraging for me. I think it’s something I can continue to work on. Maybe expand my role a little bit next year.
WN:What kind of role would you like to take on next season?
MM:I don’t know for sure. Obviously each year as a hockey player and competitor you want to expand and increase your role. I only got a little bit of power play time this year. Towards the end of the year, especially when a lot of guys were called up to Montreal. Excited to have a good summer this year and go in with a fresh attitude. I know a little bit more of what to expect going into training camp now that I have been to one.
WN– Did your family get a chance to see you play this season?
MM:Yeah, a couple times actually. My mom came to St. John’s twice. My dad came out once at the end of the year. My dad and my sister also came to Toronto when we played in Toronto right after Christmas. We have a really tight knit family. I’ve always appreciated the support from them. My dad is a big hockey fan. I always like having him around, give me extra tips and stuff like that. It’s always fun having them all around giving me their support for sure.
WN:What was it like putting on a jersey with the Montreal Canadiens patch on the shoulder?
MM:It’s cool obviously. Being part of one of the greatest organizations in hockey history is a special thing to do. Pulling that jersey over your head is obviously special. Just makes you want to get into the big club even more. Hopefully one day soon I will be able to get that jersey over my head. That will be even more special.