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by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens

QUEBEC CITY – Towering above his teammates at six-feet-six-inches, it’s tough to miss Michael McCarron when he’s on the ice.

Credit: Steve Poirier/HHOF Images

So after a noticeable absence with Team USA at this year’s World Junior Championships in Montreal and Toronto in January, the American forward has made up for lost time by instead playing as much hockey as possible well into the spring.

With just two of 60 CHL teams left standing before Sunday’s league final at the Colisée Pepsi, the Canadiens’ first-round pick from 2013 now has the opportunity to put an exclamation mark on what has been an impressive turnaround season.

“Being here is pretty special. I was mad when I didn’t get invited to the World Juniors but I used that to come to Oshawa even hungrier for both an OHL championship and a Memorial Cup championship,” admitted McCarron, who has registered a goal and two assists through three games so far in Quebec City following a 68-point regular season and 18-point playoff campaign. “Now I’m one game away from realizing that goal. Doing so would definitely put a huge smile on my face.”

While McCarron’s development at center continues to look promising in terms of what the 20-year-old might bring to the position in Montreal one day soon, the second-year OHLer has also been maturing into a leader in the dressing room while putting the past behind him.

“Being here means a lot more to me. This is my team, these are the guys I hang out with every day, and to win this together would be extra special,” continued the Macomb, MI native, who arrived in Oshawa following a trade from London on January 1. “It’s going to be the last Junior game for some of these guys, and we want to play for them on Sunday.”

Despite being well-rested since clinching a spot in the Memorial Cup final with a win over the Rockets on Wednesday, a tough test still separates McCarron and the Generals from Junior hockey’s most prestigious trophy following three days away from the ice.

“Kelowna's an offensive team. They can do scary good things up front, but we have a tremendous defensive mentality and I think we’ve been getting better and better in the three games we’ve played so far,” underlined the former right winger who has won 37 of his 76 draws since the start of the tournament. “We’ve been allowing less goals and we’ll be ready for them.”

With Kelowna and Oshawa being ranked first and second throughout much of the 2014-15 CHL season, Sunday’s final promises to be a heavyweight bout of sorts, albeit with two teams playing two very different styles of hockey.

“It’s going to be our big guys versus their top scorers and it will come down to whoever makes the least turnovers,” predicted McCarron, who is one of five Generals players listed at over six-foot-four, and one of six listed at over 210 pounds. “I don’t know if we’re the favorites, but in our locker room we’d like to think we are. We’re really confident going into this game, and have been all tournament.”

Although the tournament favorites may still be up for debate, the favorite in the hearts of Quebec fans meanwhile – many of whom have been tuning in from Montreal – is more obvious.

“Playing in the OHL, these games have been some of my first in front of the fans in this province,” continued McCarron, who also suited up for the Habs during an intersquad scrimmage at the Bell Centre in September. “I’ve been trying to play the same way I have all year, and I’ve been getting a lot of encouraging tweets from the fans here since the tournament started.”

Which is why the 2015 OHL champion also has his sights set on a return to La Belle Province in the fall.

“It’s awesome, I love it here. I feel like I’m in Europe. It’s a lot of fun, the people are super nice, and I hope to be back soon.”

Steven Nechay is a writer for canadiens.com

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