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A moment like this

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens

BROSSARD – After wrapping up a successful college hockey career at the University of North Dakota, Mark MacMillan is ready for his shot at the pros.

MacMillan, who signed a two-year entry-level contract with the Canadiens on April 12, is among dozens of prospects and invitees strutting their stuff at Development Camp through Thursday at the Bell Sports Complex. It’s the sixth time the 23-year-old Penticton, BC native has taken part in the annual summertime affair, but with a new chapter on the horizon, MacMillan is more eager than ever to demonstrate just how far his game has come over the last four years.

“I just want to showcase what I can bring to the table. I take a lot of pride in being a two-way player that can play at both ends of the rink. I’d like to showcase my character and my compete level. I think those things make anybody successful at any level. Whether I’m in the American Hockey League or the National Hockey League, that’s what I’m all about. Obviously, the ultimate goal is to play in the NHL. That’s every kid’s goal. Right now, I want to come in, play like I can and be myself. I think pretending to be someone else gets you in trouble. That’s the biggest thing,” offered MacMillan, who registered 46 goals and 99 points in 151 career games for the seven-time NCAA champions between 2011 and 2015.

“It’s an exciting time right now. I’m feeling a lot of different emotions about coming to my first professional camp in September,” added MacMillan, who was selected in the fourth round, 113th overall by the Canadiens back in 2010. “I’ve been to Development Camp many times before, so I know how these things work. Most of the guys say they’re somewhat similar, but there’s definitely going to be a different mentality when you’re trying to make a team and show what you’re capable of a little bit more.”

Unfortunately, MacMillan isn’t able to scrimmage right now after suffering a fractured knee cap while blocking a shot against St. Cloud State University on February 28 in Grand Forks, ND. That sidelined the former BCHL standout for the remainder of the season, including North Dakota’s magical run to the 2015 NCAA Frozen Four.

“It was very frustrating. It was maybe one of the toughest things I’ve ever experienced in my life. Obviously, hockey is a big part of my life. I think we really had the team to do something special. It was fun all year. No player likes to watch their team winning or losing, especially in big games. I think everyone wants an opportunity to be out there. Whether you’re a first-line player or a fourth-line player, everyone wants to make a difference,” confided MacMillan, who was leading the National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC) with a career-high 16 goals when he went down while blocking a shot during a 5-on-3 penalty-kill. “I think the hardest thing for me was just sitting and watching knowing I could be out there making a difference. I wanted to make a difference, but I just wasn’t able to.”

The 6-foot, 183-pound centerman isn’t dwelling on that disappointment now, though, focusing instead on getting his pro career started on a high note.

“This is all about getting a new opportunity. I think it’s very cool that I went to North Dakota, which is probably the most storied franchise in college hockey, and now I’m coming into the most storied franchise in the NHL. Just being a part of that pride in North Dakota, I think it’s something that I can carry over to being a Montreal Canadien and being a part of the organization. I’m really proud and excited about it. I think turning the page is about being excited, but not over-excited, and doing what I can on the ice to help my team win,” shared MacMillan, who served as North Dakota’s assistant captain in 2014-15.

“I took away a lot of things [from North Dakota] that can help. I think it’s primarily just about how to be a pro. Our coaching staff all went through being professional hockey players. [New head coach] Brad Berry and assistant coach Dane Jackson both played in the NHL. [Former head coach] Dave Hakstol moved a lot of players into the league, too. They know what it takes. I think taking from them just how to approach your day-to-day life is huge. You can’t take a day off as a pro player. Even on your days off, you’ve got to take care of your body and do the right things,” added MacMillan, who centered North Dakota’s top trio in his senior year, while also being featured on both special teams units along the way. “Playing Junior hockey or going in as a college freshman, you maybe don’t pay too much attention to those types of things. Now, you do. Every single day, you’ve got to do the right things if you want to be a pro.”

That certainly includes learning from the likes of players who boast qualities like a relentless work ethic, fearlessness, ferocity and an insatiable desire to win. In MacMillan’s case, that role model just happens to be long-time friend, Brendan Gallagher.

“I just think that any hockey player can learn something from Brendan because nobody gave him a shot in hell of playing in the NHL. Look at the success he’s had already in the three years he’s been in Montreal. Any hockey player can just watch what he does on the ice and how hard he works. You hear how he works the same way off the ice. That’s something any hockey player find success in,” praised MacMillan, who played spring hockey alongside the Canadiens’ No. 11 when the pair were seven or eight years old while residing in Alberta. “He’s a good guy to watch. When it comes to scoring goals, I try to do the same thing he does. I just like to be around the net. When I played on the power play, I’d play in front of the net and kind of bang in rebounds and tip in pucks. That’s where a lot of the good goal scorers like to go.”

While MacMillan certainly enjoys lighting the lamp, he prides himself on defense, too. It’s one aspect of his game that has come a long way over the last few years, so much so that it earned him NCHC Defensive Forward of the Year honors this past season en route to helping North Dakota claim the outright NCHC title.

“Being a good defensive player is important to me. As my years progressed in North Dakota, I was able to develop that aspect of my game even more. I got to watch really good players in the last minutes of games, which was huge,” offered MacMillan, who was dominant in the faceoff circle all year long. “My role just continued to grow. I’d be out there in more and more critical situations, and I became a go-to guy in defensive zone situations. I think that’s important for players to develop different parts of their game to be successful. It’s something I take a lot of pride in.”

Now, MacMillan is chomping at the bit to put those talents to use at the next level.

“It will be interesting. Obviously, I’ve never played a pro hockey game before. I’m not too sure what to expect. I’ll come into training camp and kind of take it day by day,” concluded MacMillan, who will spend the remainder of the summer training in Vancouver before returning to Montreal in early September. “It will be my first year as a pro, so I’ll just take things as they come. I’m going to do my best and enjoy the experience.”

Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.

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