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Puddister had early preview of MacKinnon’s magic


Mitchell Puddister and everyone else in the Newfoundland dressing room had heard about the kid.

Still only 15, Nathan MacKinnon had already been profiled on TSN, and in the Toronto Star and The Globe and Mail. His selection as the No. 1 overall pick in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League draft in a few months’ time was all but imminent.

“We knew about him … everybody knew about him,” said Puddister, who five-and a-half years ago was the goalie for the Newfoundland team competing in the 2011 Canada Winter Games in Halifax.

One of the stars of that competition was young MacKinnon from nearby Cole Harbour, N.S., who was following the footsteps of another hockey-playing Cole Harbour product, Sidney Crosby (Crosby starred for Nova Scotia in the 2003 Canada Games in northern New Brunswick).

On a Tuesday afternoon at the Dartmouth Sportsplex just over the bridge from Halifax, the 2-1 Newfoundlanders were scheduled to play the winless Nova Scotians.

“I remember,” said Puddister, who started against Nova Scotia and finished the game with 45 saves, “their first shot on goal. He (MacKinnon) came flying down the wing and wired a shot. I made a nice save, kind of robbed him a bit, and he skated by me and tapped my pads.

“Everything after that was downhill.”

Nova Scotia won the game 7-2, and MacKinnon finished with three goals and two assists.

He went on to bigger and better things, of course. MacKinnon did go No. 1 in the Q draft, played in the world juniors, went No. 1 in the NHL Draft to the Colorado Avalanche and won the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year.

This week, MacKinnon has been big player on the exciting North American under-23 team at the World Cup. Wednesday night, he scored the game-winner in overtime as North America downed Sweden 4-3.

Among the 19,104 in the Air Canada Centre stands was Puddister, and four teammates on his CBR Renegades St. John’s Junior Hockey League squad, including  Stephen Ledrew, who also played against MacKinnon in the 2011 Halifax Games.

“We played against him a bunch of times coming up through minor hockey, at the Atlantic Challenge Cup in under-14, under-15 and under-16,” said Puddister.

Back five years ago, Newfoundland jumped out to a 1-0 lead against Nova Scotia in Dartmouth, but then MacKinnon went to work.

“On his first goal,” Puddister recalled, “he just skated down the wing and ripped the water bottle right off the mesh (of the net).

“He was that good. His skating, his awareness on the ice, his ability to read the play … His skillset was way, way above anyone else who was on that ice.”

MacKinnon, said Puddister, wasn’t just a fancy dan, either. The youngster could play a physical game.

“There was no one he couldn’t knock off the puck. I remember Kris Hodge (from C.B.S., who would go on to play in the QMJHL) hit one of their guys from behind a little bit. MacKinnon skated over and just ragdolled Hodge.”

MacKinnon finished the tournament fourth in scoring with eight goals and three assists.

British Columbia’s Curtis Lazar, now of the Ottawa Senators, led the tournament with 12 goals and five helpers in six games. Other NHLers who played in those Halifax Games were Jonathan Drouin of the Tampa Bay Lightning, MacKinnon’s North American teammate, Sam Reinhart of the Buffalo Sabres, Bo Horvat of the Vancouver Canucks, Max Domi and Anthony Duclair of the Arizona Coyotes, Darnell Nurse of the Edmonton Oilers, Nic Petan of the Winnipeg Jets and Shea Theodore of the Anaheim Ducks.

Puddister, by the way, finished the tournament with a 2-2 record and 3.75 GAA, sixth-best amongst goalies with four or more starts.

 

rshort@thetelegram.com

 

Still only 15, Nathan MacKinnon had already been profiled on TSN, and in the Toronto Star and The Globe and Mail. His selection as the No. 1 overall pick in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League draft in a few months’ time was all but imminent.

“We knew about him … everybody knew about him,” said Puddister, who five-and a-half years ago was the goalie for the Newfoundland team competing in the 2011 Canada Winter Games in Halifax.

One of the stars of that competition was young MacKinnon from nearby Cole Harbour, N.S., who was following the footsteps of another hockey-playing Cole Harbour product, Sidney Crosby (Crosby starred for Nova Scotia in the 2003 Canada Games in northern New Brunswick).

On a Tuesday afternoon at the Dartmouth Sportsplex just over the bridge from Halifax, the 2-1 Newfoundlanders were scheduled to play the winless Nova Scotians.

“I remember,” said Puddister, who started against Nova Scotia and finished the game with 45 saves, “their first shot on goal. He (MacKinnon) came flying down the wing and wired a shot. I made a nice save, kind of robbed him a bit, and he skated by me and tapped my pads.

“Everything after that was downhill.”

Nova Scotia won the game 7-2, and MacKinnon finished with three goals and two assists.

He went on to bigger and better things, of course. MacKinnon did go No. 1 in the Q draft, played in the world juniors, went No. 1 in the NHL Draft to the Colorado Avalanche and won the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year.

This week, MacKinnon has been big player on the exciting North American under-23 team at the World Cup. Wednesday night, he scored the game-winner in overtime as North America downed Sweden 4-3.

Among the 19,104 in the Air Canada Centre stands was Puddister, and four teammates on his CBR Renegades St. John’s Junior Hockey League squad, including  Stephen Ledrew, who also played against MacKinnon in the 2011 Halifax Games.

“We played against him a bunch of times coming up through minor hockey, at the Atlantic Challenge Cup in under-14, under-15 and under-16,” said Puddister.

Back five years ago, Newfoundland jumped out to a 1-0 lead against Nova Scotia in Dartmouth, but then MacKinnon went to work.

“On his first goal,” Puddister recalled, “he just skated down the wing and ripped the water bottle right off the mesh (of the net).

“He was that good. His skating, his awareness on the ice, his ability to read the play … His skillset was way, way above anyone else who was on that ice.”

MacKinnon, said Puddister, wasn’t just a fancy dan, either. The youngster could play a physical game.

“There was no one he couldn’t knock off the puck. I remember Kris Hodge (from C.B.S., who would go on to play in the QMJHL) hit one of their guys from behind a little bit. MacKinnon skated over and just ragdolled Hodge.”

MacKinnon finished the tournament fourth in scoring with eight goals and three assists.

British Columbia’s Curtis Lazar, now of the Ottawa Senators, led the tournament with 12 goals and five helpers in six games. Other NHLers who played in those Halifax Games were Jonathan Drouin of the Tampa Bay Lightning, MacKinnon’s North American teammate, Sam Reinhart of the Buffalo Sabres, Bo Horvat of the Vancouver Canucks, Max Domi and Anthony Duclair of the Arizona Coyotes, Darnell Nurse of the Edmonton Oilers, Nic Petan of the Winnipeg Jets and Shea Theodore of the Anaheim Ducks.

Puddister, by the way, finished the tournament with a 2-2 record and 3.75 GAA, sixth-best amongst goalies with four or more starts.

 

rshort@thetelegram.com

 

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