MacKinnon Making his Mark at U17s
Nathan MacKinnon is taking another step toward introducing himself to the National hockey audience. The 15-year-old Cole Harbour native is currently the leading goal-scorer for Team Atlantic, and third overall at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge going on in Manitoba.
Team Atlantic currently sports 2-2 record in the tournament, following a 7-2 victory over the German squad on Sunday. The East Coasters only other win came Friday against the team from Finland. They have dropped games to Team Quebec and Team USA.
MacKinnon’s five goals in the tournament are good enough to put him right behind, Halifax Moosehead Luca Campini and Team USA standout Henrik Samuelsson who lead all with six. He is also only behind another Moosehead, Andrew Ryan (9) and Samuelsson (10) for the tournament overall lead in points.
Nathan MacKinnon’s biggest offensive output came against the Finns on Friday. He tallied two goals and two assists to spark a come-from-behind victory for Team Atlantic, who had fallen behind 3-1. He added another two goal performance against the Germans in the final game of the preliminary round.
Unfortunately, Team Atlantic failed to make the semifinal stage of the tournament, but the event has certainly opened a few more eyes about MacKinnon.
MacKinnon will next help lead Nova Scotia, as Halifax hosts the 2011 Canada Games. He is also the odds on favourite to be the first overall selection in the QMJHL draft this spring. While his hometown Mooseheads would love to land him, so will everyone else. Recently, the Rimouski Oceanic acquired their fourth first round pick for the upcoming draft in what some believe will be an attempt to secure MacKinnon’s services. If he ends up going to Rimouski, it would just be another reason to make the comparisons to Sidney Crosby discussed in a recent feature on Hockey Canada’s website.
Being an underage player with Team Atlantic is only one element that Nathan MacKinnon has to overcome at the 2011 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge.
There’s also the inevitable comparisons to a certain Stanley Cup champion and Olympic gold medallist that shares MacKinnon’s hometown of Cole Harbour, N.S.
“It is flattering to be compared to him, but it is pretty big shoes to fill,” MacKinnon says of Sidney Crosby, who grew up just around the corner from the MacKinnon family in the Halifax suburb.
For MacKinnon, following in Crosby’s footsteps to Shattuck has benefited his game; the 15-year-old feels like he has improved on his decision making during games, learning to react to different situations on the ice. He says it was the strength of the program and the alumni, which include the last two Stanley Cup-winning captains, Crosby and Jonathan Toews, that motivated him to move 2,400 kilometres from home to chase his hockey dreams.
U16 head coach Christian Bragnalo says that MacKinnon’s strengths in skating and competitiveness are a “dangerous combination” for his competitors, but it is too early to compare him to Crosby. Although Bragnalo never coached Crosby, he says, “there is no doubt that Nate is a dynamic character, just like Sid.”
MacKinnon agrees that his greatest strength as a player is his skating, a skill he has been working on since he was young. MacKinnon’s father, Graham, says that he first put him in hockey skates when he was two years old and “he just took off on the skates, running on the ice.”
The second youngest Canadian player at the U17 tournament – only Quebec’s Jérémy Grégoire is younger, by just four days – MacKinnon says he won’t be thinking about his age when he steps on the ice in Winnipeg, just taking advantage of a “great learning experience.”