For an 18 year old hockey player hoping to one day fulfil his dream to play in the NHL, being the draft weekend can be a nerve wrecking experience. For Mark MacMillan, it was a very busy weekend. “It was also my prom weekend so we had our prom on Friday. My dad and my brother Mitch were watching on television on the first day, then on the internet on the second day”, said MacMillan sitting in the stands at the South Okanagan Event Center, keeping a close eye on his teammates on the ice. But on that day, technology turned its back on the MacMillan family. “It’s funny the way I found out. I was picked 113th and at pick 111, the computer froze! We didn’t find out until my advisor, Joe Oliver, called me. I was ecstatic when he told me that Montreal had picked me. I went back to the living room and told everyone, a big celebration followed”, said MacMillan still with a big smile on his face.
MacMillan says that he had an incline that the Canadiens were thinking of drafting him. He said that he spoke to a scout a few weeks before the draft and the interview went well.
The MacMillan’s moved around over the years and established residence in Penticton in time for Mark to play his bantam AAA hockey in the Penticton Minor Hockey Association. He then played his midget hockey for the Penticton based Okanagan Hockey Academy, following in the footsteps of big brother Mitch.
Last season, he finally had the chance to play a full season with Mitch in the BCHL for the Alberni-Valley Bulldogs, where both were key contributors to their team’s success, the Bulldogs finishing in first place in the Coastal Conference. Mitch finished the season with 61 goals and 93 points, good for 4th in the BCHL, while Mark had 26 goals and 80 points, placing him 9th in the league.
With Mitch off to St. Cloud University undrafted, I asked Mark if he had the bragging rights over his older brother. “I don’t know about bragging rights”, to say Mark with a chuckle. “I don’t know that I would have been drafted if it wasn’t of him and other great teammates last year”.
Listed at 6’0” and 150 lbs at the time of the draft, many people in the hockey world believe that Mark would have been selected much higher had he been 20 or 30 lbs heavier and MacMillan recognizes that. And this is one of the reasons why he chose the BCHL over the WHL’s Vancouver Giants, who own his rights. “The biggest thing that could hold me back from getting to the next level and ultimately to the NHL is my weight. Going through the WHL would only give me 3 years to pack on the pounds before turning pro while with the college route, it can be up to 5 years”, to add MacMillan. “Having the backup plan of an education and the fact that North Dakota is a great school with a great hockey program is also a hard one to give up.”
Since the draft, the Montreal Canadiens have been very much present in Mark’s life, offering him all sorts of advice and help. When asked about the trade to Penticton, he reverted back to his weight. “A few people in hockey thought that it would be a good idea to eat sleep and live at home and it might be easier to put that weight on, to get some home cooking and the support of my family while trying to pack on the weight”. Does the fact of being drafted and now playing at home add any sort of pressure? “Playing at home in front of friends and family has added excitement, but I don’t see it as added pressure but if it does, bring it on I guess!” said a confident MacMillan. Working out every day, he has already gained around 10 lbs since the draft.
MacMillan seemed quite impressed with his experience at the Canadiens’ development camp he attended this summer. “It was an awesome experience. It was amazing to see how professional they were and how well I was treated out there. I was at camp with guys like PK Subban, Ryan White, Ben Maxwell, lots of guys who played in Hamilton last year. To be around them and see how they go about the game, it was a great learning experience for me”.
He also had the opportunity to meet some of the coaches and people in the administration. He didn’t get to talk to Jacques Martin a lot, but he was able to introduce himself and meet him. “I also talked to Mr. Gauthier, quite a bit at diner and we talked a lot about where I would be playing as I hadn’t made a decision at that time. We also talked about going to North Dakota and how it’s a great program”, said MacMillan.
Now back in Penticton to continue his development, he suffered a set-back. At his very first regular season game with the Penticton Vees, MacMillan suffered an injury while giving a body check to an opponent, breaking his wrist in the process. His arm in a cast, the Vees’ forward finds himself in an unfamiliar situation. “It’s tough. I’ve never really had an injury before. The last time I missed a game to injury or illness was in peewee when I had pneumonia. You have to stay positive and hope that I get back in the line-up as fast as I can”. How is he keeping in top shape in the mean time? “Going hard on bike right now trying to keep the cardio up and I should be able to get back on the ice in the next couple of weeks without handling the puck. I guess that’s the good thing about an upper-body injury, you can keep in pretty good shape”, said MacMillan.
The Canadiens are very much involved in his development and they are in contact with MacMillan on a regular basis. “I’ve been talking to Trevor Timmins quite a bit with regards to camp, and before the trade happened asking where I’d be playing this year. With the injury, they’ve been in touch making sure that things are going smoothly and offering help if need be”.
Penticton was host to the Young Stars tournament a few weeks ago, with the top prospects from the Sharks, Ducks, Flames, Oilers and Canucks participating. Being drafted like most of the guys on the ice, many of which drafted this past summer as well, MacMillan has a feeling of belonging. “Being able to watch Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and the other top prospect was great. It makes you want to wish you were out there but at the same time, you know that you can’t as a college player otherwise it makes you lose a year of eligibility”, said MacMillan. I asked him who he knew best from the draft and his answer surprised me a bit. “It’s kind of funny but the guy I probably know the best in the draft is Brandon Gallagher who got drafted by Montreal as well. We played spring hockey together when we were 8 or 9 years old back in Edmonton. It was cool to go to development with him; we hung out together the whole time”.
Mark MacMillan is a very serious and focussed young man, mature beyond his young age. Watch for him if he succeeds in putting on the necessary weight as if it is true that if you really want something and take the steps to get there, you will achieve your dreams, then this guy should, one day, suit up at the professional level.
He returned to the ice wearing a playing cast a few days ago and Vees’ head coach Fred Harbinson has set the last weekend of October as a potential return date for his star center. The Penticton Vees sit at the top of the BCHL standings.