“Up Close” is an All Habs Hockey Magazine feature that gives readers a back-stage pass to athletes, management and sports personalities via our exclusive interviews. Previous guests have included HNIC’s Steve Porter, NASCAR’s Andrew Ranger and Montreal’s Annakin Slayd. This week the spotlight is on Montreal Canadiens’ prospect Mark MacMillan.
When Marc Bergevin was hired as the new Montreal Canadiens’ General Manager, one of his first priorities was to touch base with Trevor Timmins and rightfully so. With the NHL stuck in yet another lockout, we read a lot about the team’s prospects and there are many having all sorts of success: from Galchenyuk to Hudon, to Ellis, Galchenyuk, Tinordi, Archambault, Galchenyuk, Beaulieu, Gallagher, Galchenyuk, Bozon, Holland and, you guessed it, Galchenyuk. We even read from time to time about North Dakota’s Danny Kristo, but we rarely hear anything relevant about another Sioux forward: Mark MacMillan. Mark was kind enough to answer a few of my questions which will allow Habs’ fans to get to know a fantastic young man, mature well beyond his age.
PENTICTON, BC. – The Penticton Minor Hockey product was drafted by the Canadiens in the fourth round, 133th overall at the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, ahead of his good friend Brendan Gallagher, with whom he periodically keeps in touch. Those who follow me will recall my first exclusive interview with Mark MacMillan while he was playing for the Penticton Vees in the BCHL, when he explained, among other things, the reasons why he chose to go the college route as opposed to going to the WHL.
This past season was Mark MacMillan’s first one in North Dakota where he had a very respectable freshman year, finishing with seven goals and 23 points in 42 games played. It didn’t take long for him to realize that balancing classes, practices, workouts and homework at night takes discipline and commitment. He is very grateful to the coaching staff and his teammates, who all helped him make the transition from junior hockey to college, transition which in his opinion, took a little longer than he would have hoped.
Having Vees’ teammate Brendan O’Donnell joining the team with him helped as well: “He was my roommate, so it made it easier on the both of us having someone we knew there right from the start.” While he felt like he was playing well basically right from the start, he did not start to produce regularly until the second half of the season, when he found linemates with whom he built some chemistry. “My role for most the year stayed pretty consistent. I was on the second line for much of the year, played a little bit of power-play, and was a penalty killer as well.”
MacMillan spent part of the summer in North Dakota training, and then spent the rest of the summer in Penticton to train there. His focus all summer was the same as it has been for the past few years: train hard and keep working on putting on some weight, as well as to continue to add strength. He was in Montreal for the development camp in June and he is periodically in touch with the team’s strength coach. While in Montreal, he became friend with another western league prospect, Patrick Holland. It looks like the Canadiens new management structure will allow prospects like MacMillan to be more in touch with the organization: “Now, with the hiring of Martin Lapointe and Patrice Brisebois, I think that I will be able to have a little more contact as Mr. Lapointe informed us he will be coming to watch at least a couple games this year.”
Since leaving the BCHL and with one year under his belt in North Dakota, Mark feels like he has improved his overall game. He feels like training hard has allowed him to gain some strength which in turn has improved a lot of areas in his game. “I feel much faster, I feel my shot has improved, and I will continue to work on the strength so I am harder to knock off the puck. The adjustment to the college game was a big step, so learning to play the game at a much faster pace, against much bigger and stronger players was also something I improved on.” Although he played center for some games last year, he spent most of the time on the wing, which was an adjustment in itself for him. “I have always been a centerman my whole life, so wing was a little uncomfortable for me, especially at first, but my coaches were patient with me and taught me a lot, and it has only made me a better player.”
So how does he see his role as a sophomore this year?
“I hope to get a little more powerplay time, and build on the penalty kill time I got last year. I was quite happy with the way I killed last year, so I look forward to being a key part of both special teams this year. My goal is to build off the success I had in the second half, continue to produce offensively, build my defensive game, and continue to be a reliable two way player.”
The expectations are high this year in North Dakota as the Sioux have only lost four players from last year, a much smaller turnover than the year before. He feels like they have a strong group of forwards and a great defensive core, while although their two goaltenders are new this year, both can do the job. “We all have a lot of confidence in the group of guys we have, and we are all striving towards a National Championship, a goal we think is well within our reach.”
I asked Mark a difficult question and I gave him the choice to answer it or not. As Habs’ fans are well aware, teammate Danny Kristo has sometimes made news for the wrong reasons. When asked for his take on the situation and the possible impact on the team, MacMillan answered like the true gentleman he is: “What has happened with our team at the start of the year has unfortunately made the news for the wrong reasons. Danny is a great player, and a great teammate, and will continue to be for the rest of his career. When your team faces any sort of adversity, whether it is at the rink or away from it, you have to deal with it to the best of your ability, learn from your mistakes, and move on. That’s exactly what we are doing.”
I couldn’t let this interview go without getting his take on the NHL lockout as the players could sacrifice yet another season in order to pave the road for young prospects like him. As a student of the game, MacMillan is disappointed in the fact that he can’t watch players like Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews and Claude Giroux as he uses that time to learn from them. “From a fan perspective, the lockout is disappointing for me. I love the game, love to play, and love to watch, so not having any hockey to watch at night has for sure been disappointing. I like to watch a lot of different teams, and a lot of different players, as I like to study the game and try to learn things from the best players in the world.”
While most Habs’ fans may not know this young man as well as they know some of the other prospects in the organization, don’t count him out just yet. At the time of writing this, MacMillan leads the Sioux in goals with five and he’s second in points with nine, just behind Danny Kristo. If hard work pays off, you will see this guy at the professional level one day.
Follow Mark MacMillan on Twitter: @EasyMac_16
You can keep track of all prospects (and players) of the Montreal Canadiens by following this Twitter list.
En français: Sous les réflecteurs: Mark MacMillan