Five years after being drafted by the Montreal Canadiens, Penticton’s Mark MacMillan is officially a Hab.
“It’s something I worked towards my whole life,” said MacMillan, prior to his University of North Dakota hockey team starting the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) playoffs.
UND made the announcement on their website that MacMillan inked a two-year entry-level contract on April 12, three days after losing in the Frozen Four semifinal 5-3 to highly touted NHL prospect Jack Eichel and Boston University on April 9.
“It’s been a lot of hard work and a lot of sacrifice. Not only for me but for my family,” said MacMillan, who is nearly finished school. “My parents put a lot of time and effort into me trying to achieve one of my dreams. Waking up early and sending me to hockey camps. My mom (Lorraine) and dad (Doug) especially, I can’t give them enough credit for how supportive they were with me, my brother and my sister.”
MacMillan, split his two-year BCHL career with the Alberni Valley Bulldogs and Penticton Vees, had his season in the NCAA end after 29 games when he broke his knee cap blocking a shot. He finished the season with 16 goals and 25 points.
“I was pretty happy with the way I was playing, unfortunately it ended not quite how I was expecting it to,” said MacMillan, who finished his career with UND with 99 points in 151 games. “I’ve been making progress every day with it. It’s something I will be able to recover from.”
MacMillan, selected by Montreal 113th overall in the fourth round in 2010, said UND had a successful season and that he did what he wanted to be part of that.
“It was hard not to be on the ice with my teammates,” he said. “I supported them any way I could.”
MacMillan credited his successful season to playing with confidence as coach Dave Hakstol trusted his assistant captain in different roles.
“Just having that confidence allowed me to do some things that maybe I haven’t in the last couple of years,” he said.
The six-foot, 184 pound forward placed a lot of expectations on himself and learned more each season through his experiences.
When asked about the highlight of his college career, MacMillan, who majored in entrepreneurship, said all of it was.
“It’s been probably the best four years of my life,” said MacMillan, who wore 16 because he liked the way Trevor Linden played during his NHL career. “It’s been a lot of fun. Gone through a lot of ups and downs. I had a chance to play in arguably the most prestigious college hockey program in the world. Our rink is nicer than some NHL facilities. Getting a chance to play in front of 12,000 fans every night at home. Being part of the Sioux family is probably the biggest highlight that I could say.”
Confidence was also a contributing factor to MacMillan’s teammate Troy Stecher having a strong season. The former Vees captain credited that to having a career year in the stats department.
“It’s about confidence and getting to play a big role,” said Stecher, who collected three goals and 13 points in 34 games, after scoring twice and finishing with 11 points in 42 games in 2013-14, his rookie season. “I just ran with it.”
For Stecher, the confidence boost came from attending the Vancouver Canucks and Chicago Blackhawks rookie development camps, which also gave him exposure. When asked if NHL teams were showing interest, he wouldn’t comment as he was focused on helping his team make a run at a Frozen Four championship.
Stecher missed eight weeks of action with a lower body injury. Upon his return, his play eventually got back to where it was before getting injured as the playoffs neared. There were times he could feel the injury, but he said it’s just a matter of putting it in the back of his mind and focusing. Stecher said college playoffs are completely different than the BCHL as there are no seven-games series.
“The fire is still there but it’s single elimination. I think the intensity is a lot higher because it’s single elimination,” he said. “You get everyone’s best. It’s a good balance, but at the same time, you kind of miss those seven games series. Injuries play a key part to everything.”
In that final, UND was without MacMillan and one other player. Stecher said the loss of MacMillan was huge as he was their top player and was on the special teams.
“He was one of those guys that kind of ran our ship,” said Stecher. “Not the most vocal guy but he led on the ice. Everyone followed.”
In the loss, Stecher found the back of the net scoring shorthanded in the third period.
“We knew we were doing the things the right way and that we needed to continue to our strengths and good things were going to happen,” said Stecher on the UND website after the loss.
Stecher enjoyed being on a winning team again as they had a good start to the season and there wasn’t a week they didn’t play well.