The education of Colorado Avalanche rookie star Nathan MacKinnon
continued in Toronto against the Maple Leafs on Tuesday evening.
In the 18-year-old MacKinnon's first NHL game in Canada, there were plenty of good shifts and the occasional bad one for the early, early favourite to land the 2013-14 Calder Trophy in the Avalanche's 2-1 victory
The bad moment arrived late in the second-period, when MacKinnon threw an ill-advised pass into the middle while in his own zone. The turnover resulted in a go-ahead goal from Maple Leafs veteran Joffrey Lupul
, in which the Toronto forward out-muscled MacKinnon to hammer in a rebound.
But MacKinnon made up for that mistake early in the third period. Thanks to a strong back check, he stole the puck and transitioned the puck the other way. His linemates Jamie McGinn and P.A. Parenteau made sure MacKinnon's hard work paid off with a Parenteau game-winner.
"I'm loving every second of it," said MacKinnon, who now has four assists in the Avalanche's perfect 3-0-0 start under rookie head coach Patrick Roy. "The travelling with the team, the way that they treat the players is pretty special. Obviously a little different than junior but I can't complain about that either. It's been great."
MacKinnon has some reliable mentors to make sure he has a great first NHL season. He lives with veteran backup goalie Jean-Sebastien Gigueure and his family.
Roy had made sure MacKinnon, who has averaged 14 minutes and 42 seconds a game, gets the right amount of ice and in all situations. He will be brought along slowly for the time being on the third line.
Roy communicated in a clear and concise manner to his teenage stud in training camp that he wants MacKinnon to be himself and not try to be anything he's not.
It was a refrain he heard often in the summer from his fellow Cole Harbour, N.S. native and workout partner, Sidney Crosby.
"I learned some little things from him for sure," MacKinnon said. "I realized why he is the best in the world and that's because of his work ethic. He's a very modest guy and very down to earth also."Big brother
Giguere and his wife Kristen, who hails from Halifax, invited MacKinnon to stay in their suburban Denver home. Giguere lived with Jeff O'Neill in his rookie season with the Hartford Whalers and he remembered how much that helped him become assimilated to the NHL.
"I think it was a good fit for my family and a good fit for him," the 36-year-old Giguere said. "I have three young boys (all under the age of six) and it's nice for them to have a big brother. Being 18 years old and in the NHL, it probably is better for him to be around a family.
"He has some questions. I'm not trying to be his Dad. I'm not going to tell him when he has to be home or stuff like that. I don't want to be overbearing and give him too much advice. He's going to get a lot of advice for a lot of years. It's a job that the veteran guys can share in the dressing room. I'm not a forward, so other guys can chip in."
Giguere also won't make the new addition to his family babysit, but he also has a few rules for the music played in the car on the ride to the rink.
"There is no country and no hip-hop," Giguere said with a chuckle.
The visit to the Air Canada Centre was a game MacKinnon looked forward to. His parents were in the building. He grew up a Maple Leafs fan. He circled this game and an Oct. 21 meeting in Pittsburgh against Crosby as two important early outings.
So far, so good for rookie Avalanche centre. He hasn't forced his game. He has appeared relaxed out there. He has enjoyed playing for Roy.
"He's a player's coach, and he treats everyone very well. You want to play for him and that's huge," said MacKinnon, who is rooming with young Colorado defenceman Tyson Barrie on this road trip.
"If you don't have that as a coach it's tough, but he's been great for everyone on this team. He's just letting me play -- the power play, penalty kill, the last minute of a period. I couldn't ask for more and I'm very grateful for this opportunity."
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