International Ice Hockey Federation

MacKinnon's star rising

MacKinnon's star rising

Calder candidate looks good for CAN so far

Published 12.05.2014 01:41 GMT+3 | Author Lucas Aykroyd
MacKinnon's star rising
MINSK, BELARUS - MAY 10: Canada's Nathan MacKinnon #29 stickhandles the puck around the net with Slovakia's Jan Brejcak #91 chasing during preliminary round action at the 2014 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship. (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/HHOF-IIHF Images)
When Canada faces the Czechs on Monday, it’ll be fun to watch the head-to-head confrontation between a budding NHL superstar and a certified NHL legend.

Nathan MacKinnon of the Colorado Avalanche is coming off an outstanding NHL rookie season (24-39-63) that will likely make him the Calder Trophy winner. The 18-year-old centre from Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia has one point through two games after setting up Erik Gudbranson’s goal against France. But as his spectacular 10-point performance in a seven-game first-round loss to the Minnesota Wild showed, MacKinnon still has plenty left to give in Minsk.

In the other corner is Jaromir Jagr, an IIHF Triple Gold Club member whose numbers with the New Jersey Devils this season (24-43-67) were strikingly similar to MacKinnon’s. Tied with Steve Yzerman for sixth all-time in NHL scoring (1,755 points), the two-time Stanley Cup champ and 1998 Olympic winner is seeking his third world title in Minsk after capturing gold with the Czechs in 2005 and 2010.

So MacKinnon has some catching up to do against his 42-year-old rival. But after the Avalanche beat New Jersey 2-1 twice this season, he won’t be intimidated when the puck drops at Chizhovka Arena at 20:45.

“Obviously it’s always fun to play against Jagr,” MacKinnon told after Canada’s Sunday afternoon practice. “He’s one of the best ever to play. But at the same time, I played against him a couple of times this season, so I won’t be too starstruck.”

MacKinnon was equally sanguine about Canada’s opening 3-2 shootout loss to France, which the Canadian Press dubbed “one of Canada’s more embarrassing losses in recent history at this tournament.”

“I think it was good for us to lose early,” he said. “Obviously you never want to lose, but it’s not the worst thing that ever happened, for sure.”

Even though he didn’t get on the scoresheet in the 4-1 win over Slovakia, he was happy about the improvement this Canadian squad showed under coach Dave Tippett.

“We played a better five-on-five game,” MacKinnon said. “I thought we limited their amount of scoring chances five-on-five. We obviously allowed a power play goal. We’ve got to stay out of the box better. But for us, I think it’s important to keep getting better every game. We learned a lot from France and the same thing against the Slovaks.”

Tippett is pleased to have a weapon like MacKinnon in his arsenal. Canada has been undone by an inability to get goals at key times at the last four Worlds where it failed to medal.

The 183-cm, 83-kg phenom, who’s one of just nine players in NHL history who have scored 20 goals and 60 points at the age of 18, just might be the cure for that malady.

“He’s a game-breaker who can make something happen out of nothing,” said Tippett. “One of the advantages he has here is that the players who played in the first round, they seem to have a little more of their game legs. The players who missed three weeks or so are taking a little longer to get up to speed. But he’s come in and he’s been playing a fast game right from the day he got here. That’s a big advantage for us.”

Being that MacKinnon hails from the same hometown as Sidney Crosby, comparisons between the two former number one overall NHL picks are inevitable. Are they merited? Ask Alex Burrows, the talented Vancouver Canucks winger who lined up alongside number 29 in Canada’s first two games.

“I think he’s right up there with Sid,” Burrows said. “Sid has proven that he’s probably the best player in the game right now. He’s won the Stanley Cup and two Olympic gold medals. But I think Nathan’s just a few years away from being in that same category.”

Burrows, of course, is known as one of the NHL’s best agitators. But MacKinnon seems pretty happy to get to know the man who scored classic overtime winners against Chicago and Boston in Vancouver’s 2011 run to the Stanley Cup final as a teammate rather than a rival.

“He’s a very fast player,” said MacKinnon. “He’s scored 30 goals. He’s definitely an easy guy to play with. I think we’ve been creating some good chemistry.”

MacKinnon has found a comfort level off the ice in Minsk, too, from Team Canada’s brand-new hotel to the efforts of tournament organizers and volunteers.

“It’s a nice city,” he said. “I didn’t really know what to expect in Minsk. But they’ve been great to us, and the tournament has been great. We don’t get to see it much. We kind of go to the rink and back. But looking out the window, you definitely get to see a little bit.”

He’s also looking forward to seeing his father Graham, who will come to Belarus in about a week in time to catch the medal round.

With ten 1990’s-born players on this Canadian roster, Tippett surely can’t help feeling kind of like a father himself. A two-time Olympian as a player (1984, 1992), the Phoenix Coyotes bench boss wants to maximize the value of his youth movement headlined by MacKinnon. He can also deploy recent World Junior graduates like Philadelphia’s Brayden Schenn, Toronto’s Morgan Rielly, and Buffalo’s Cody Hodgson, to name a few.

“There’s an energy young players bring, and especially when you have top young players like the ones we have here, they’re fun to coach,” said Tippett. “You’ve got to harness that energy and make sure it goes in the right direction. They’re very enthusiastic players right now and very fun to be around.”

If MacKinnon starts to fill the net, as he very likely will, the fun is only going to increase.


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