Mason McTavish played in only five games for the Pembroke Lumber Kings in the 2018-19 season, but it was clear he was a special player. He was only 15 years old and because his age restricted him from playing regularly with the Junior A club, Lumber Kings fans never really got to appreciate his talent.
Now, McTavish is captaining Team Canada at the World Under-18 championship in Plano, Texas and also auditioning for the NHL entry draft in July. With each game, he is garnering more attention and many hockey analysts are now projecting he could go in the top ten picks.
At 6’ 2” tall and weighing 207 pounds, McTavish is a power forward with a deadly shot. Recently, TSN analyst Craig Button, compared him to Auston Matthews of the Toronto Maple Leafs, a top five scorer in the NHL. It’s high praise for MacTavish who is only a few months past his eighteenth birthday and has emerged as one of the leaders on Team Canada. In the club’s four preliminary round games, McTavish scored 5 goals and added 2 assists, as Canada went undefeated.
Mason’s journey to professional hockey mirrors that of his father, another Lumber King alumnus, Dale McTavish. In the 1987-88 season, the elder McTavish suited up as a 16 year for the Lumber Kings, joining a team that was loaded with talent, but lost in the semi-finals of the Centennial Cup national championship.
From Pembroke, Dale McTavish joined the Peterborough Petes of the Ontario Hockey League where he spent four seasons. He then played university hockey and had a brief stint in the NHL with the Calgary Flames, but most of his career was spent in Europe. He played for Canada five times in the Spengler Cup tournament, the annual Christmas holiday event in Davos, Switzerland.
Mason’s first time on skates was with his father at a Spengler Cup tournament. He was 4 years old. Four years later, Dale’s professional career ended, the family returned to Canada and history repeated itself, as the Lumber Kings franchise became the pathway for Mason to follow his father’s footsteps.
“It’s kind of cool the way it has worked out,” Dale says of the similar journeys he and his son have had in their respective hockey careers, but he also knows, Mason is on a different trajectory. “He understands the game really well and he has a goal to play in the NHL as soon as possible,” says Dale.
In the summer of 2013, Dale became a junior hockey club owner for the first time when he purchased the Lumber Kings from Sheldon Keefe after Keefe had moved on to coach the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the Ontario Hockey League. In addition to owning the team, Dale took over the responsibility of being the Lumber Kings head coach.
By the time Mason was 15 years old, he was playing for the Lumber Kings U-18 team. Dale wanted to insert him into the Junior A roster, feeling it would help his development and also help his Lumber Kings win more games. But, a Hockey Canada policy prohibited 15-year old players from dressing in more than five games for a Junior A team. Trying to obtain an exemption was too much of a hassle and so Mason played in the CCHL’s U-18 league and tore it up. He had 79 points in 41 games and led the Baby Lumber Kings to a championship.
(Photo courtesy of OHL and Peterborough Petes)
CCHL Commissioner, Kevin Abrams, admits it was an unfortunate situation. “Mason would have been a key player at the Junior A level were it not for the restrictions based on age. It’s great to see players come through our programs under Hockey Eastern Ontario and the CCHL perform well on such a huge stage,” says Abrams, who has been watching the U-18 tournament.
In the five games that Mason played at the Junior A level he had 7 points, incredibly impressive given that he was the youngest player on the ice and was competing against players that were up to five years older than him. Not surprisingly, he was taken fifth overall in the Ontario Hockey League draft by his Dad’s alma mater, the Peterborough Petes.
His rookie season was outstanding. Before the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown the OHL’s 2019-20 season, McTavish had scored 29 goals and had 47 points in 52 games. When the season was put on hold he returned to the family home in Carp and continued to stay in shape, skating at least three times a week and working out five days a week. That routine went on for months as the pandemic worsened.
When it became clear that the OHL would be on hold for an indefinite period, the place where he had first been introduced to the game, became a logical destination to get an opportunity to play again. Mason signed with EHC Olten of the Swiss League, the country’s second tier professional league. In 13 games, he recorded 11 points, but it wasn’t the statistics that mattered, it was the opportunity to play the game.
“He went over in August and was offered a spot with HC Lugano in the top league, but we weren’t sure if the OHL was going to go, so he couldn’t commit,” says Dale McTavish. Then things got more complicated, because to play in Europe, Mason needed a work permit, but he had to be 18 years of age to obtain one. When he turned 18 in late January, he was able to sign with EHC Olten and played in Europe until he needed to report to the U-18 tournament.
Playing in Switzerland has been a good primer for the World U-18 championship where Mason is clearly demonstrating that he is one of the top young players in the world. He and his Dad talk daily, Dale sometimes offering some advice but never pushing too hard.
“We talk hockey, from his point of view. I just try to give him some feedback if he is wondering about something, mostly to be positive. I try to bring some points in that can help him, but usually its from a supportive parent perspective, says Dale.
Mason is positioned to be the first Lumber Kings alumni to be drafted in the first round of the NHL entry draft since Dainius Zubrus was chosen 15th overall by the Philadelphia Flyers in the 1995 draft.
For now, his focus is on helping Canada win a World U-18 championship. The July 23rd NHL draft will come soon enough. It’s really only a question of what NHL team picks him and how high will he go in the draft? His performance at the U-18 tournament has confirmed that he deserves a crack at the best professional hockey league on the planet.