SAINT JOHN, N.B. — Hamilton Bulldogs centre Mason McTavish has played for more teams in one season than some players do in a career.
By estimate, McTavish had roughly 150 different teammates this season as a member of the Anaheim Ducks, San Diego Gulls, Peterborough Petes, Canada’s world junior team, Canada’s Olympic team and Bulldogs.
The third-overall pick in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft, McTavish may not remember all the teammates he’s played with this season, but it’s likely, as a projected NHL star, they’ll all remember him.
“It’s definitely been a lot of hockey, but it’s something that I love to do,” McTavish said Thursday before the Bulldogs took on the Shawinigan Cataractes in the fourth game of the Memorial Cup. “I’m pretty fortunate to play in so many different tournaments and leagues, especially here in Hamilton, and my main focus right now is winning the Memorial Cup.
“But it’s definitely weird, it takes a little bit of time to adjust to what league you play in and who you’re playing with. But it’s been pretty fun playing in the NHL and then AHL, and even coming back to junior; it’s always really fun playing hockey. It’s been a fun year; it’s definitely been different than a regular year.”
Born in Zurich where his father Dale played professionally, McTavish returned to Switzerland two seasons ago to play with EHC Olten as the COVID-19 pandemic all by wiped out junior hockey. He played with the Canadian Under-18 team in the spring and was selected by Anaheim in last year’s draft.
McTavish started this season with the Ducks, becoming the youngest player in franchise history to score a goal. He was sent down to play in the AHL before returning to junior to play with the Petes. He then played with Canada at the world junior championship before COVID-19 shut down that tournament, which has since been rescheduled for August.
Shortly after returning to the OHL, McTavish was acquired by the Bulldogs in a blockbuster deal, which saw two players, and three draft picks go the other way.
“I knew this team was pretty good, and once I got here, I was blown away with how good they were,” McTavish said. “I think I only lost one regular-season game playing here. It’s pretty crazy to be a part of a team like this and I’m really fortunate.”
McTavish was the final piece of the Bulldogs’ championship puzzle. He had 14 goals and 40 points in 24 regular-season games, then added 16 goals and 29 points in 19 playoff games as the Bulldogs won the OHL title, going 16-3 in the postseason.
“I didn’t know many guys on the team, but it’s definitely easier fitting in being an older guy,” McTavish said. “But just like any other team, you spend more time listening at first and then work your way in. They’re all great guys and even the younger guys are interacting with the older guys, so it’s not like some other junior teams where the older guys just hang out with the older guys and the younger guys hang out together.
“We have a great group in there and it starts from the coaching staff, they do a great job integrating everybody in.”
Before McTavish could really get settled with the Bulldogs, he got the tap to represent Canada at the Olympics after the NHL decided it would not send players to China.
“The Olympics were cool, they were different,” McTavish said. “It was cool being an 18-year-old and going to the Olympics and just seeing the other athletes. The most fun was going to the other events and seeing all the other athletes. It was definitely something I’ll never forget.”
Upon his return, McTavish helped lead the Bulldogs to the top spot in the OHL standings. Hamilton swept through the first three rounds of the playoffs before needing seven games to put away the Windsor Spitfires in the final.
Hamilton lost its first game of the Memorial Cup on Monday, falling 4-3 to the host Saint John Sea Dogs, who were eliminated in the first round of the QMJHL playoffs and were coming off a 38-day layoff.
“For sure, I’ve created a lot of friendships this year, and I think I’ve probably grown the tightest to the guys here just from being here the longest,” McTavish said. “Hockey is great, you meet so many new people and you create life-long friendships and I feel so fortunate to play and meet so many special people.”
The Bulldogs feel lucky to have him and hope he can help them capture their first Memorial Cup championship. This is the second time the Bulldogs have been at the event, losing in the semifinal of the 2018 tournament in Regina.
“Mason is a game breaker, he’s a guy that can go out there and really turn it on and take control at times in the game,” said Bulldogs head coach Jay McKee. “He’s a great teammate, a really likeable person, he loves the game of hockey and has a real competitive edge to him that spills over to other players as well.
“At the same time, he’s a guy that can keep things loose around the dressing room. I think that’s good for our club, I think they play better when everybody is loose. And he’s been a real impactful player for us.”
Email: [email protected]
On Twitter: @DerekVanDiest