The next stop on Mason McTavish's hockey odyssey? Playing for Canada at the Olympics

Nineteen-year-old forward Mason McTavish is the youngest player, and one of the brightest stars, on Canada's Olympic men's hockey team — just his latest stop in what's been a whirlwind stretch.

Forward, 19, youngest player on Canada's Olympic men's hockey team

Team Canada forward Mason McTavish takes a break during practice at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, China, on Saturday. The 19-year-old has had to deal with a lot of upheaval so far in his young career. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

Mason McTavish must wonder what it's like to be in one place for more than a few weeks.

And not live out of a suitcase.

The 19-year-old forward is the youngest player, and one of the brightest stars, on Canada's Olympic men's hockey team — just his latest stop in what's been a whirlwind stretch.

After spending time in California, Ontario, Alberta and Switzerland this season, he's now waking up every morning in China.

"Definitely been busy," McTavish said with a grin following a recent practice at Beijing's National Indoor Stadium. "But it's been fun."

It's also been hockey's version of planes, trains and automobiles.

'Pretty stressful'

Selected third overall by the Anaheim Ducks at the 2021 NHL draft, the Carp, Ont., product made the team out of training camp before being sent to the minors.

McTavish would eventually be recalled, but was then subsequently returned to his junior club — the Ontario Hockey League's Peterborough Petes — for more seasoning. He followed that up by joining Canada for the world junior hockey championship in Edmonton, putting up three goals, including a highlight-reel opener, and a pair of assists in two games.

The under-20 tournament, however, was abruptly cancelled because of COVID-19 concerns, and McTavish was back with the rebuilding Petes only to be traded to the Hamilton Bulldogs for two players and a boatload of draft picks.

"It was definitely pretty stressful," he said. "[You're] not sure where you're going to be the next day."

WATCH | Get to know Canada's men's Olympic hockey team:

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The NHL's decision to withdraw from the Olympics because of virus issues that clobbered its schedule had already opened the door for McTavish by that point, and he would soon be boarding a plane to Switzerland for the team's camp before jetting off to the 2022 Winter Games.

Five teams, five leagues or competitions, 22 points in 22 games since October.

And he'll be looking for more — along with a gold medal — wearing the red Maple Leaf on his chest in Beijing.

"Lots of new faces and new people I've been meeting," McTavish, who celebrated his birthday Jan. 30. "Learning a lot from new coaches, new teammates."

Ties to Switzerland

Going a little further back, he travelled to Switzerland last season — where his father, Dale, played professionally for more than a decade — to find some competition ahead of the NHL draft when the OHL scrapped its schedule because of the pandemic.

"I lived with the president of the team," said the six-foot, 213-pound McTavish, who was born in Zurich and registered nine goals and two assists in 13 games for second-tier Olten EHC in 2020-21. "I always love going back to Switzerland."

The youngster's Olympic teammates, meanwhile, are enjoying his presence, powerful skating stride, bullet shot and exuberance.

"Great player, man," said 37-year-old captain and longtime NHLer Eric Staal, who's had McTavish on his wing as the team prepares for its Group A opener against Germany on Thursday. "He's going to play a long time. You can tell that pretty quick."

"He's built like a man," added forward Daniel Winnik, who spent 11 seasons in the NHL. "He's just a big boy, a smart hockey player and he can really use his size."

'He's going to be an important player'

Canadian head coach Jeremy Colliton, who also has defenceman and 2021 first overall pick Owen Power at his disposal in Beijing, paid attention to McTavish's early returns when he was behind the bench for the Chicago Blackhawks before getting fired in November.

"He fit right in," Colliton said. "He's going to be an important player for us. When you're young like that, you get better all the time. He's probably going to develop in the next 10 days. It's fun to work with guys like that.

"Love his style of play — plays a Canadian style."

WATCH | CBC Sports Explains — Men's Olympic ice hockey:

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It's a style Petes head coach Rob Wilson saw firsthand after Peterborough took McTavish, who rocked U.S. defenceman Brock Faber early in a scrimmage between the countries Monday in Beijing, fifth overall in the 2019 OHL draft.

"He came into camp at 16 and was already built a few years ahead of his time," Wilson said in a phone interview. "The first day he got on the ice, he ripped the puck top shelf.

"I was quite impressed."

That admiration only grew.

Wilson told a story of a veteran player half-joking and a little frustrated the puck always found its way onto McTavish's stick early in his rookie campaign.

"He's so lucky!" the teammate blurted out.

"It ain't luck," Wilson replied.

"Great players, they just have a knack for knowing where the puck's going to be," the coach continued. "And it's almost something you can't teach.

"It's part of their makeup, and Mason has that."

Resilient amid upheaval

McTavish, who scored in his NHL debut in October, has enjoyed his globe-trotting calendar year.

But the pandemic forced him to be resilient.

"You've just gotta work around things and accept stuff," McTavish said. "There's nothing good about it, but that's one take-away.

"Definitely made me, and I'm sure a lot of other people, mentally tougher."

The adversity he's already faced should help him with the inevitable pitfalls of a short Olympic tournament.

And when he starts down the road in earnest on what should be a long NHL career.


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