Mark McNeill – a bona fide Blackhawks fan – was the first of 11 Chicago picks at this summer’s NHL Entry Draft. The center for the Prince Albert Raiders (Western Hockey League) answers questions posed by Chicagoland youth hockey players about his favorite player growing up, his pregame superstitions, how bad his gear smells and more.
Who was your favorite hockey player as a kid?
– Ethan Kortz, 8, St. Jude Knights
The player I always looked up to was Ryan Getzlaf (Anaheim Ducks); he’s my favorite player and someone I watched a lot growing up. I try to take parts of his game and put them into my own.
What is your favorite goal memory?
– Basil Stamatopoulos, 7, Chicago Blues
It was back in Bantam Triple-A when I was playing for the Edmonton South Side Athletic Club. We were at a tournament in Medicine Hat, Alberta, in the finals against a pretty stacked Notre Dame team. The game ended up tied in the last few minutes when I got a penalty shot and went down and scored, winning it for our team. That was a special moment for me, and it was the first time that my club went on to win that tournament. I believe they ended up going back and winning it the next two years as well.
What position did you play growing up, or did you always play center?
– Julian Seemann, 6, Pleasant Prairie Patriots
I’ve always been a center growing up, although I did play a little bit of defense in minor hockey.
What do you eat for breakfast before your hockey practice? I want to make sure I have enough energy and fuel to practice at 100 percent.
—Ryan Diaz, 7, Sabre Hockey Silver Mite 1
My go-to breakfast on a gameday or practice day is probably toast and peanut butter or something like that. It’s pretty regular for me, maybe a glass of milk or a glass of juice.
What was your favorite NHL team growing up?
—Alex Kim, 9, Northbrook Bluehawks
My favorite NHL team has always been the Chicago Blackhawks. Growing up in Edmonton, the Oilers were obviously huge there, but I’ve always been a Blackhawks fan, and I was able to catch a lot of the games on NHL Center Ice.
I’ve been skating for five years now. How old were you when you first started skating and playing hockey?
—John Wojciechowski, 8, Rockford Hockey Club
Really young; I’m not sure if I can remember exactly, but probably around the age of 3 or 4 is when I started to get on skates. My dad was taking me to a 3-on-3 rink back in Langley, British Columbia, where I started skating.
Did you play any other sports growing up besides hockey?
—Carson Darnall, 9, Vernon Hills Ice Dogs
Some sports. When I was little, I really liked to fish, and I played a little tennis and a lot of golf back when I lived in Vancouver, but right now it’s pretty much strictly hockey. In the offseason, as much as I can, I like to hit the links and go out and toss it around a little bit.
Did your parents complain like mine that your hockey gear stinks as bad as a rotten egg?
—Reid Miller, 13, Bantam Maniax
Yeah, they complained a lot actually. My hockey equipment was never really inside the house, it was always in the garage or outside, drying out, because it smelled that bad.
Did you ever get cut after a tryout for a team you were trying to make?
—Ben Shwaiko, 15, Vernon Hills Ice Dogs
The first time I ever got cut was my first crack at the U-18 team for Canada. Obviously I was a little disappointed at the time, but I knew I had to keep my head up and keep working hard for future consideration from Hockey Canada. Also I had a season coming up, so I had to keep working hard.
Do you have any pregame superstitions or routines?
—Connor Bruns, 8, Homewood Flossmoor Vikings
The only superstition I have is that I have to take a two-hour nap before the game; I need my rest. Besides that, in the room I usually tie up my left skate before my right. Other than that I’m not too superstitious.
I’m a first-year bantam. What is the best advice you can give to someone my age who aspires to play at the highest level?
—Zack Slezak, 13, Chicago Hawks
Take nothing for granted. Be the hardest worker on your team, whether it’s staying out late at practice or extra time at the gym. Do whatever it takes to get there.