Oilers: Q&A with Colin McDonald

By Guy Flaming

The Edmonton Oilers made a conscious effort to improve the talent and size of their forward lines with the choices they made at the 2003 NHL Entry Draft. A prime example of this strategy is the somewhat surprising selection of Colin McDonald.

McDonald led the New England Coyotes of the Eastern Junior Hockey League last season, and finished on top as the league’s premier scorer. Along the way the native of Wethersfield, CT garnered a myriad of personal awards and titles including league MVP and MVP of the Top Prospects Tournament in 2002.

The son of former pro player Gerry McDonald of the Hartford Whalers, Colin has hockey in his genes. Inspired by his father’s story, McDonald has his sights firmly set on professional hockey and the young man simply exudes confidence.

He’s confident in his abilities, sure of his drive and certain of his future success. Colin McDonald is able to be all of those things without sounding the least bit cocky.

A half hour discussion with one of Edmonton’s newest prospects was more than enough time to discover why the team targeted Colin McDonald.

Q: The Oilers drafted you with their second pick, 51st overall, which was much earlier than most publications projected you going. Did it surprise you that you were chosen when you were?

A: Did it surprise me? Yes, just because the information I was given or heard of where I was going to go. It didn’t surprise myself personally because I know I can play this game and make an impact with their team. Yes it was a surprise that I went when I did but I was very happy with the outcome.

Q: I know a lot of players don’t actually go to the draft but were you in Nashville?

A: Yes I was.

Q: Did you have a lot of interviews that week?

A: Actually I had all of my interviews when I went to the combines in Toronto. I’d say that I had close to twenty interviews in two days time and that was very busy.

Q: What is the interview process like?

A: They bring you in and sit you down, ask you what your strengths and weakness are. All the teams already know what mine are but they want to hear how honest I am in rating my own ability. They ask why they should draft me, what I can bring to their team, past teams I’ve played for, things like that. They asked a lot about my dad, the guys who played with him or against him, they asked how he was doing. They weren’t long; each meeting was only about 15 minutes.

Q: So they were not all high-pressured situations then?

A: No. The first one I maybe felt a little pressure but after that everything was fine.

Q: Did you have a feeling then that the Oilers were significantly interested in you?

A: I had no idea. I talked to so many teams, if I had only talked to five or six teams I would have had a better idea but since I talked to so many I really had no idea. I’m certainly very happy to have been drafted by them. One funny thing was during this past playoffs, I was watching the Edmonton playoff game with my dad and just the atmosphere was unbelievable and I said to my dad “that would just be a great place to play.” It’s so funny that it’s actually working out that way.

Q: To appreciate the playoff atmosphere in Edmonton you really have to see it to believe it.

A: That’s what everyone says and I haven’t actually been there yet but I can’t wait to go. Hockey is just life up there. I can’t wait to go.

Q: Three players from your team were also drafted and I believe they were the only three players from that league even drafted. Does that surprise you at all?

A: No. I come from a very good program and it’s known all around North America. Tons of guys have played for Gary Dineen, the biggest one being Bill Guerin, and that’s what the program does. They develop their players, put them in colleges and they continue to develop and then they end up getting drafted.

Q: You said that you’ve never been to Edmonton before. Do you know anything about the city at all?

A: Just what the coaching staff has told me. One of the first things they said to me was “Have you ever been in –30 C weather before?” and when I said “No” he said “Well you’d better get used to it.”

Q: Is there anything you want to know about the city?

A: I just can’t wait to go. I’ve heard it’s beautiful. Is it a big city?

Q: There are about a million people.

A: That’s good. Providence is pretty small.

Q: As an American, were you hoping to be drafted by an American city or did it matter to you at all?

A: No I didn’t care either way. All my friends were asking me if I wanted to stay in America or if I wanted to go to Canada. I just love hockey and I was telling them that hockey is life in Canada so to be able to play up there and be the center of attention in their respective cities that would be a dream come true.

Q: Have the Oilers made any suggestions towards your training or development through college?

A: They gave me their summer conditioning but they told me to do the Providence one cause that’s where I am now. Looking at both programs with my trainer we found that they’re pretty much the same. A lot of conditioning, a lot of weights and a lot of quickness and they try to get you to the same goal.

Q: As for the Providence Friars, Fernando Pisani played there and Jason Platt is still there. That must be a positive feeling to know that there are others who came before you through the same program.

A: Jason Platt and I are living together. Jason went to the rookie camp so he’s told me everything that I need to work on because he’s been on the ice up there with the guys. He’s helping me out as much as anyone else can to try and get me to the next level. He knows what kind of a player I am and he feels I have a very good shot to make it so he’s been great.

Q: Why did you choose to go through college rather than through Major Junior?

A: The main reason is that I’ve been brought up to believe that education comes first. To be honest with you, I never really got many contacts from Major Junior teams so it was always college. I think it will be better for me. The season is shorter and I matured late. I’m just starting to put on weight so that will allow me to spend more time in the weight room. I’m trying to make myself bigger and stronger to make that jump to play with the Oilers as quick as possible.

Q: Why Providence over some of the other better-known schools in New England?

A: They’ve shown the most interest in me from day one. It was unbelievable how much they expressed how much they wanted me. They’re not treating me like a freshman; they’re treating me like a sophomore or a junior. They want me to come in right away and put up big numbers and that’s all I could ask for. Other teams were saying that they’d bring me in and see how I do but that I might not play a lot. You can’t get better by watching from the stands, you need to be out there getting used to the pace and size of the game. I’m going to play a lot next year.

Q: It sounds like they are putting you on the fast track.

A: You’re right.

Q: Do you plan to be there for four full years though?

A: I’m taking it year by year. There is no time frame so if it takes four years then it takes four years. I don’t want to leave if I’m not ready. It’s been my goal since I was three years old to play pro hockey so if they were to ask me after my sophomore year to leave it’s going to be very hard for me to say “No” to that.

Q: The Oilers held their first annual prospect camp this past June. Were you invited to come?

A: Yes I was and the reason I could not make it was that I graduated that same week. It kind of sucked because I wanted to skip graduation but that’s something you really can’t do. Next year, if they invite me, I’ll definitely be there.

Q: You mentioned earlier about your strong points and your weaknesses. Tell me what the strong points of your game are and also what you think you’ll need to improve to play pro hockey.

A: For strengths, I’m a pretty big kid and I think I use my body well. I’m a goal scorer, that’s what I do and that’s what I’m expected to do. This past year what I learned was that the more physical I can be down low and around the boards the more ice I create for myself and my teammates. For weaknesses, I need to continue hitting the weights to try and get stronger. One of my main focuses right now is with my shooting and trying to increase my quickness. One-timers, wrist shots and backhands, just increase the quickness of my shooting.

Q: I’ve read scouting reports on you that describe your play as very aggressive and borderline dirty. How do you feel about that?

A: I definitely don’t think I’m a dirty player I just think I play the game hard. I’ll never miss a check, I’m very physical. I don’t think a lot of forwards do that who also put up a lot of numbers. Usually you’ve got guys that score and guys that hit but I do both. I think I can help Edmonton out with my solid play.

Q: Everybody always tries to compare a newly drafted player to a current NHLer. Who have you been compared to and whom would you compare yourself too?

A: I’ve always compared myself to Bill Guerin. When I sat down with Edmonton in Toronto they asked me that same question and when I told them they agreed 100%. He’s a leader on and off the ice, he fights and he’s a goal scorer and that’s exactly what I do.

Q: Is there any significance to the number you wear?

A: I’ve worn #9 in juniors and I’m going to wear #18 next year. If I can choose my own number it will probably be #32 or #33 because that’s what my dad wore when he played pro. He took a different route by playing Div III College and playing public high school. His father died when he was young and for him to make it, he’s just been my motivation my entire life. I’d wear #32 or #33 just for him.

Q: I was going to ask what kind of influence your dad has had on your career.

A: He’s been unbelievable. I mean he made it and he wasn’t supposed to. A lot of people have been dogging me because I don’t come from a hockey city or because hockey isn’t very big from where I come from. But dad always says that if you keep working as hard as everyone else is than you will make it because hard work pays off.

Q: Tell me about the US National team camp in August and your thoughts of playing in the World Juniors.

A: It would be a dream come true. To put on a USA jersey, I get the chills just thinking about that. From what I’ve heard we have a very good chance of winning gold for the first time in a long while because a lot of the guys are coming back. The top two lines are small but very skilled forwards. I think if I can just play my game I’ll have a good shot to make it because they need a big power forward, from what I hear, for that third or fourth line.

Q: Do you know any of the other players or coaches who are involved?

A: The only one I really know is Hugh Jessiman. He was my roommate last year for the Select 17’s. I just know everyone else by name I’ve not actually met them.

Q: Will that be the highest level of competition that you’ve been involved in?

A: Right, yep.

Q: You’ve been given numerous awards over the past couple of seasons, which ones mean the most to you?

A: It’s tough to say. The trophy each player wants is a championship trophy and we didn’t get that this year so the individual awards don’t mean as much. Nobody talks about this guy or that guy; they usually talk about the team that won. If I had to say then I guess I would pick the ones I won in my own league although the one I won in Detroit meant a lot to me too. It meant a lot because our league (EJHL) doesn’t get as much respect as the USHL and the NAHL so for myself to get the MVP it meant a lot for the league and for New England.

Q: What goals have you set for yourself for this coming season?

A: First and foremost is to get to the Frozen Four and win the Championship. Personally it’s for me to continue to improve as much as I can over this next year and if I get invited to rookie camp I’ll try and play as well as I can there. The ultimate goal is to make it pro and so I’m going to take all the steps necessary to make it.

Q: When does your college season begin?

A: Our first game is October 5th I believe. We start practicing after August 31st.

Q: Who has been your favorite NHL team up to now, assuming that the Oilers are now #1?

A: (Laughs) Yes! I’m from Hartford, CT and the Whalers were huge.

Q: So did that loyalty carry on to Carolina?

A: Um…no. It was the Whalers but after that I didn’t really have one. We always watched the Bruins and the Rangers but that was just because they were local.

Q: I can’t imagine that if you were a Whalers fan that you would get behind the Bruins!

A: (Laughs) Exactly! That’s just something you don’t do, especially with my dad in the house!

Q: Last question: How are you spending the summer when you’re not working out?

A: Well I work out six days a week so…

Q: So you are either working out or sleeping!

A: That’s exactly right. During the weekdays I’m on the ice four days a week and I’m in the gym six days a week so, my only focus is to get prepared for next season.