LAKE PLACID, NY. — It was April 3rd, the NHL Trade deadline. A little less than a month past his 18th birthday, the Michigan native was watching the coverage and using social media. He had discovered a new app and posted a video along with the message “Vine is cool.”
Like other teenagers, his tweets were about school, the mall, music and the prom. Oh, and one more thing: being excited about participating in the World Under-18 Hockey Championships later that month.
In the April tournament, Mike McCarron had three goals and two assists for five points in seven games in Sochi, Russia. His Team USA earned a silver medal losing the championship game 3-2 to rival Canada.
“The food wasn’t very good, but I battled through. When we beat Russia in overtime, I got chills.” — Mike McCarron
It was the beginning of a whirlwind few months for the young hockey player. Soon to follow were the scouting combines, the NHL draft and the Montreal Canadiens development camp. McCarron also managed to squeeze in an orientation at Western Michigan University where he was slated to be a freshman in the Fall.
Instead McCarron decided to forego his NCAA eligibility and signed a three-year entry-level contract with the Canadiens. He will play in the OHL for the London Knights this season. Hockey was also part of his summer as McCarron was invited to the National Junior Evaluation Camp. In two games, he had a power-play goal and an assist.
In Lake Placid he was known as “Segel” to his Team USA teammates given a more than slight resemblance to actor Jason Segel from “How I Met Your Mother.” All Habs caught up with McCarron for a one-on-one interview at the Olympic Center.
What was the National Junior Evaluation camp like for you?
It’s been a lot of fun here to be with a lot of the guys. It’s always awesome to put on that USA crest. You have to take every moment to heart. I thought that I played pretty well. Things I need to keep improving my game obviously are my consistency and my finishing. I’m excited to get to my first half of the season in London and make the US team.
What made you decide to sign with the London Knights?
[Marc Bergevin] offered to sign me to an entry-level deal. It’s always been my dream. It’s kinda hard not to do that when that’s my dream and the paper is right in front of me. It’s kinda hard not to sign that. We decided to follow my dreams and sign that contract and head over to London.
Sometimes your aggressive style leads to injuries. How’s your eye?
Nothing serious. I got a high stick just above the eye. I’m kinda lucky it didn’t hit me in the eyeball. I’m fine. It’s all part of hockey. I kinda like it. (laughs)
What’s it like to suddenly have fans that know you and want to meet you?
As a kid I was always that kid standing out there waiting for the guys to come out and give us a picture. It’s almost like a dream come true. It’s still kinda surreal to me walking outside and seeing that I actually have fans. That’s really cool to me. I try to fulfill their hearts and sign their stuff. It’s an awesome feeling. It’s so much fun. The other side is that you have to manage that and not let it get too big in your head.
Who helps you stay grounded?
My parents keep me in line. I’m a good kid. I don’t get my head too big. I’m not one of those cocky kids.
How will you deal with increased scrutiny on your game?
Dealing with scrutiny you just have to take everything with a grain of salt. You can’t listen to anyone else. It’s you and you know what you need to do to get better. I try not to listen to them too much even when they say I’m playing good. You know if you are playing good or not. You have to manage that yourself.
Who did you bond with during the Canadiens’ development camp?
I hung out with Jacob de la Rose a lot and [Zachary] Fucale, kinda kicked it off a little bit. I talked to Jarred Tinordi quite a bit. That was still when I was making my decision to go to the OHL. He just gave me the positives of going to the OHL. He said that he loved it so much and you see where he is now. He’s on the Montreal Canadiens and that’s obviously where my goal is. He said that he wouldn’t change anything. It’s kinda hard not to listen to that.
Don Lucia, head coach of Team USA shared his thoughts about McCarron’s game with All Habs.
“Like all the guys, [McCarron] had some good parts of his game and some areas he has to get better at. The big thing with this group is finding a role on the team. If you can’t play in the top-six you have to be able to kill [penalties.] We’re not trying to find who are the best 12 forwards, we have to find the mix at who can be on two power-play [units], who can be the six penalty-killers and identify the 13th forward who is versatile, who can play center, play wing [and play] in lots of different spots.” — Don Lucia
A second Canadiens prospect invited to the camp for the US was Brady Vail. It wasn’t the best showing for Vail who has proved that he can be a shutdown defensive forward for the Windsor Spitfires. He was outplayed by centers who were better two-way players. Despite being part of the 13-player cut mid-week, the door to playing in Russia for Team USA isn’t shut.
“The players released today will continue to be evaluated this fall for Team USA. For the players that are staying, the games this week give us an opportunity to continue assessing them.” — Jim Johannson, General Manager, Team USA
Habs prospect Charles Hudon was part of the Team Canada contingent at Lake Placid. Hudon is still recovering from a back injury that limited him to 56 games with Chicoutimi last season. He was kept off the scoresheet in his one game at the camp. Teammate Zach Fucale allowed three goals, made 38 saves, and posted a win in his only start.
One of the offensive stars of the camp was Arturri Lehkonen for Team Finland. Lehkonen was second only to linemate Teuvu Teravanien in evaluation camp scoring with five goals (including three power-play goals) and an assist in five games.
Sebastian Collberg had four points (2G, 2A) in just two games for Team Sweden before sustaining a knee injury. Teammate Jacob de la Rose had two goals and two assists for four points in two games.
Windsor Spitfires General Manager Warren Rychel was in Lake Placid hoping to add another player to his roster for the upcoming season. The CHL rights to de la Rose are held by the Spitfires. But Leksands GM Tommy Salo wasn’t interested in releasing de la Rose from the final year of his contract.
For his part de la Rose wasn’t disappointed, looking forward to playing a significant role on the Leksand team. At camp, the Habs second round pick showed that he is a smart player, who plays well away from the puck and uses his size to maneuver in traffic. De la Rose was kind enough to visit with All Habs for a one-on-one chat.
Are you happy with your week at the National Junior Evaluation camp?
I think that it was a good week with some good games. I performed pretty well so I’m happy. It’s time to go home now and I’m excited for that too.
How do you feel about your team’s performance today against Finland?
I think we should have had this [game.] I think that we’re a better team but we couldn’t get things together today. Maybe we fell on our mistakes, our own mistakes. I’m pretty pissed right now that we lost. But it’s the World Juniors that matter.
I think that we’re producing on the power-play. That’s good. For myself, I think that I played my best game today. It felt okay. I will take this with me back to Sweden and try to develop as a player.
What do you think of the new format of the camp with four junior teams in Lake Placid?
It’s nice. We were here a week before, we had a training camp too so it’s been pretty hard for us. I like it here that there’s real tough games. The other teams had their best players. It’s been a great camp. I think we learned a lot from it.
Tell me about your experience at the Canadiens’ development camp.
It was awesome. It was a dream come true. I was so excited to get drafted by the Canadiens so it was an awesome feeling. So camp went okay for me. I enjoyed it.
Mike McCarron says that you two became friends at the Canadiens’ development camp. What was it like getting to know him?
Mike is a great guy. We talked a lot [in Montreal,] we talked here too. He’s a great player too, he’s big, he uses his size and he’s so hard to get the puck from. So I think he’s going to be a great NHL player too.
What are the things you need to focus on to improve your game?
Still it’s the offensive game. I know that I can play the defensive game. I can work hard. But it’s important to create more chances and use my skating more and also get softer hands and to work on my stick-handling too to score more points because in the NHL it’s all about scoring goals. Also you need to have role players. Whatever role they will give me, I will take it.
How did you prepare yourself for all the extra attention?
I don’t think that you can train for it. It’s a fun part and I love it. I love the passionate fans too so it’s the best.
As the Team USA brass continued to evaluate all the players invited to camp, McCarron was not in the lineup for the final game against Canada. Instead, during intermission, he patiently stood in the concession line waiting for popcorn. A crowd started to form.
In the concourse, a spectator stopped me and asked, ”Who’s that guy that everyone wants to meet?” I answered, “Mike McCarron, the first round draft pick of the Montreal Canadiens.”
A normal teenager, no longer.
You can watch highlights of the exclusive All Habs interviews with McCarron and de la Rose in the player below.