Joel TanseyBlack Press
Jack McMillan’s start in hockey conjures up images of the classic Canadian childhood; neighbourhood kids of all ages, frantic action that’s only interrupted by yells of “Car!”, parents letting meals get cold on the table as their kids push for one more minute of play.
Street hockey was McMillan’s introduction to the game and he was hooked.
Now a rookie with the Peninsula Panthers, McMillan’s passion for the sport still comes down to the basics, and it’s the feeling he gets after a nice goal or a big win that truly keeps him motivated.
And McMillan didn’t have to wait long to experience what it was like to score a goal at the junior level.
On Sept. 9, in just his third game in the VIJHL, McMillan potted a pair of goals in a home contest against the Comox Valley Glacier Kings.
“It was a surreal moment,” McMillan said of his first tally. “It was nice to get that off my back and get going.”
The 17 year-old hasn’t managed to find the back of the net since, but has tallied a pair of assists while playing important minutes in all situations for the Panthers.
Going into training camp, McMillan wasn’t sure whether he’d have a place on the team’s final roster, but he was hardly content to rest on his laurels once he made the cut, going right to work on his fitness and improving his shot and speed.
Even with that extra work, McMillan still underwent an adjustment period once the games started. After spending last season playing in the Pacific Coast Hockey Academy, McMillan felt the size and speed of the competition was the biggest difference at this level.
“I went from being one of the medium to larger-sized guys to one of the smaller guys,” the five-foot-nine centre said. “This is definitely a bigger league with more physicality.”
Head coach Brad Tippett commended McMillan’s attitude and says improved physical play, to go along with his already impressive speed, is a focus area in his development.
“He hasn’t shied away from any of the contact. He’s got to be a bit more tenacious in puck battles. That just comes with being a small 17 year-old against older guys,” he said.
McMillan got to experience the physical side of junior hockey first hand in an early season encounter with the Kerry Park Islanders, taking a big hit in a clear example of a “welcome to junior hockey” moment.
Now, nearly two months into the season, McMillan says he no longer feels like a rookie, and his head coach said as much when he told McMillan and the Panthers’ nine other first-year players that it was time to remove the “rookie” label.
“We’ve got all these injuries, so some of the young guys have had some baptism by fire. From that point of view a lot of our guys have had more ice time than they probably expected,” said Tippett.
The Panthers struggled to open the season, with just four points through their opening 14 games, but McMillan is hopeful the team can turn their season around.
Still, he says he’s enjoying the experience and thrilled to a part of the Panthers’ organization.
“Everyone eventually ends up in a beer league, “ he said. “So the memories that I create with my teammates and the times off the ice (are important).”