It didn’t take long for former Pembroke Lumber King Mason McTavish to score his first National Hockey League goal. The third overall pick in last summer’s NHL entry draft found the back of the net on a rebound at the 13:20 mark of the first period as he helped lead the Anaheim Ducks to a season opening 4-1 win over the Winnipeg Jets.
The McTavish goal set off an enthusiastic celebration as his teammates recovered the puck that will now end up in the McTavish family as a keepsake marking what has been a very quick jump from playing junior hockey in Pembroke as a 15-year old three years ago to the top professional league in the world. It was clear then that McTavish was an elite hockey player and now the 18-year old NHL rookie is proving that he belongs among the best hockey players in the world. His first goal also made history as McTavish became the youngest player in Ducks history to score a goal. McTavish won’t turn 19 years of age until January.
Watching from the stands at the Honda Centre in Anaheim, the McTavish family, Mason’s parents’ Dale and Christine and his brother Darian, jumped from their seats to celebrate after an emotional rollercoaster of a day. Mason wasn’t supposed to be in the Ducks line-up. After participating in the morning team skate, he did a workout and spent some time on a bike before spending the afternoon with his family, but just after he was dropped off at his hotel he found out he was playing. That was at 4 p.m., only a few hours before puck drop.
Dale McTavish called it a crazy day but he is still beaming after watching his son play his first NHL game. “It was so exciting for the family that we were there for such a big moment. It’s something we won’t forget. We’re really happy for him.”
The elder McTavish wasn’t drafted despite having a very productive junior career with both the Pembroke Lumber Kings and the Peterborough Petes of the Ontario Hockey League, the same junior pathway that Mason has taken to make it to the NHL. Dale’s career took him to Europe where he played many years, primarily in Switzerland. That’s where Mason was born and where he first started playing hockey.
When Dale’s career ended the family moved back to Canada and when Dale purchased the Pembroke Lumber Kings from former owner and current Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe, it carved out an opening for Mason to further develop his skills playing in the Central Canada Hockey League’s U-18 division. He was good enough to play at a higher level, but was restricted by rules that only allow 15-year old players to dress in five Junior A games.
In those five games, Mason showed he could play against much older players by scoring three goals and gaining seven points. In the U-18 league he dominated, scoring 47 goals and adding 32 assists in 41 games to lead his team to a championship.
That performance made him the fifth overall pick in the Ontario Hockey League draft and in his rookie season with the Petes he netted 29 goals and had 42 points. Then, the COVID-19 pandemic struck shutting down junior leagues across the country. McTavish found ways to play. He helped Canada win a gold medal at the World Junior Under 18 tournament and played 13 games with EHC Olten in the Swiss league. By the time the NHL draft rolled around most of the hockey pundits had him being selected in the top ten picks. He again overachieved, drawing the number three overall selection from Anaheim.
Pat Malloy is a family friend. As the Director of Hockey Operations at the Peak Centre Academy, a private school that supports students in grades 4 to 12 to excel as athletes, he has spent hundreds of hours on the ice with McTavish. McTavish was enrolled in the school for middle and high school. Malloy says he could never get enough ice time, calling him one of the most competitive players he has ever tutored, and that list includes several NHL players.
“He works hard. You have to kick him off the ice. He loves the game and wants to make a difference in every game he plays and every shift he has. He is just a gamer,” exclaims Malloy.
There is a lot of pressure on top draft picks to perform, but McTavish has proven that he can control his emotions when he plays the game that has been a part of his life since he first held a hockey stick as a pre-schooler. In addition to his first NHL goal, he also picked up an assist as he earned powerplay time for the Ducks. He had over 14 minutes in ice time in his professional debut, pretty impressive for a kid who was playing at the Pembroke Memorial Centre only three years ago as an underage Junior A player.