BOISBRIAND, Quebec – Andre Tourigny wanted to see what top draft prospect Nathan MacKinnon could do on the wing in case that’s where the star Halifax Mooseheads center may be needed on the Canadian team that will play at the next World Junior Championships.
After one game, MacKinnon’s switch to the wing can still be described as a work in progress.
MacKinnon played for the first time on left wing for the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League team that lost Game 1 of the Subway Super Series 6-2 on Monday night on a line with Jonathan Huberdeau and Jean-Sebastien Dea, a line Tourigny was expecting to produce some offense against a powerful Russian team.
Except Huberdeau and MacKinnon finished the game a minus-4 while Dea was a minus-3, a situation Tourigny says can’t continue in Game 2 of the series Wednesday night in Val D’Or.
“What that tells me is you can’t win when your best players are a minus-4, that’s what it tells me,” Tourigny said. “But it wasn’t bad intentions, they worked hard, they forced the play, they created turnovers. But they tried to stretch out their shifts and that’s what happens.
“There are two ways to see things. First, we lost and we’re not happy about it. But now the players have an opportunity to show their character, they have a chance to show they can learn from their mistakes and give us a great game on Wednesday night.”
MacKinnon agreed with his coach and admitted he will need to adjust to his new position a little better than he did Monday night.
“I thought I did a decent job, but obviously I need to be a little bit better. I need to make some simpler plays and be a little harder on pucks,” MacKinnon said. “I’ve never played [wing] before. I guess not curling in the middle and staying on the wall a little bit more, things like that. But other than that, hockey’s hockey. It’s a simple game.”
Tourigny, who is an assistant to Canadian national junior team head coach Steve Spott, pointed on numerous occasions to MacKinnon’s first period turnover in the neutral zone that led to Mikhail Grigorenko’s opening goal for Russia. Just over a minute later, another QMJHL turnover led to Nail Yakupov making it 2-0 for Team Russia.
“We started the game with the momentum, the shots were 6-1 in our favor, we were in their face, we were hitting, the crowd was into it. Then, turnover and it’s 1-0, another turnover and it’s 2-0. Two turnovers, two goals. Bang bang,” Tourigny said. “That’s the lesson we need to learn from this.”
Despite his glaringly negative plus-minus, MacKinnon felt he did a decent job playing defensively, something he said he wanted to focus on as he attempts to prove his worthiness to Hockey Canada for the upcoming national team selection camp next month. He knows these two games on the wing are a big opportunity for him to show off his versatility.
“Hockey Canada has many excellent centers all capable of doing a wonderful job at the tournament. For me, if I’m going to make the team at all I’m going to have to play wing or wherever they want me to play,” MacKinnon said. “I didn’t think it was too bad [defensively], I think most of their goals were off transition. It wasn’t like they dominated us in our defensive zone or played down low the whole game, it was just little mistakes in the neutral zone that cost us.”
Tourigny agreed, and actually saw encouraging signs in the mistakes MacKinnon was making because they were made with the right intentions.
“I think he made honest mistakes,” Tourigny said. “He wanted to do too much, he wanted to be too good. That’s a question of maturity. He was powerful, he laid some good checks, he came back with intensity, he blocked some shots. It’s not because he didn’t want it, it’s just that tonight he forced the play and wanted to do too much and it came back to bite him. But these are mistakes that make you better.”
MacKinnon will get a chance to show what he learned from those mistakes in Game 2 on Wednesday night.