Mitch MacMillan found himself in a predicament around this time last year.
He was not getting playing time at St. Cloud State and had left the school right before Christmas Break, roughly halfway through the 2011-12 season.
“When I left St. Cloud,” he says, “I didn’t have a clue where I was going.”
At age 22 he was too old for junior, but his lack of ice time meant he was too inexperienced to play in the American Hockey League. He immediately contacted the ECHL and Central Hockey League to inquire about opportunities they had available.
“At the time I didn’t really know,” he says when asked what his plans were. “I was just going to see who contacted me and where I could go. I could have gone pro or played in the CHL, but I thought that school would be my best option.”
MacMillan didn’t just get any old opportunity, though; the University of North Dakota called and asked him if he wanted to play with his younger brother, Mark.
“When he decided to leave, once he de-committed, the opportunity came up for him to come,” says Mark, “and I was giving him a little nudge to try and get him to come.”
Mitch didn’t need much persuasion.
“I was lucky enough to get a phone call from North Dakota a few days after I announced I was leaving,” says Mitch. “When North Dakota offered me a spot to come play here, I couldn’t turn it down.”
“It has been fun to have him come here so far,” avers Mark, “things weren’t quite working out for him in St. Cloud the way he wanted it to.”
Natives of Penticton, BC, they both spent a season together with Alberni Valley of the BCHL in junior.
“We had quite a bit of success together in junior,” says Mitch, “so that kind of helped the decision and just being able to spend some time with my brother in college was a big thing too.”
“We stayed in touch as much as we could,” offers Mark, referring to the time they spent separated while Mark was at St. Cloud State, “we talked to each other basically every day when he was there and we played against each other one weekend, which was fun.”
The date was November 9th, 2012. Mark had a goal and an assist in a 3-0 win for North Dakota.
“It was cool. I had never played against him before,” says Mark. “We liked to chirp at each other after the whistle and just try to get under each other’s skin, but it was fun.
“It was a pretty cool experience,” echoes Mitch. “We had tons of fun out there and [it was] just fun to compete against each other, but I’m happier being on his team now.”
Mitch has only one year left to play with his brother, as his eligibility will expire after next season. The forwards had played on the same line all year in Alberni and have been paired together for the last couple of games.
“He’s more of a playmaker and likes to pass the puck,” says Mitch, “and I like to get open and take the shot. We compliment each other really well because of that.
“It’s up to the coaches, as always, but it would be nice to play together for our last year.”
Both brothers see themselves playing professional hockey in the future. Mark MacMillan was drafted by the Montreal Canadiens in the fourth round of the 2010 NHL Draft and will join the team unless he is traded.
“It was cool being a Canadian kid my whole life and the history in Montreal,” says the erstwhile Edmonton Oilers fan that lived in Alberta for six years before moving to British Columbia. “It was a pretty special moment for sure.”
A two-way forward who possesses incredible speed, Mark seeks to add weight to his 6’0”, 170-pound frame in order to compete at the next level.
“My height is there,” he says, “but I gotta pack on some pounds and add some strength if I’m going to be an NHL player.”
The future is less certain for Mitch. He remains undrafted, but should benefit from his increased playing time in Grand Forks.
“I think that’s everyone’s goal that is playing college hockey, to eventually play pro hockey after they are done,” he says, “so yeah, for sure that’s a goal of mine.”
Uncertainty clouds the future for both Mark and Mitch, but for now they are just going to enjoy the last two years they have together at North Dakota.
An opportunity they would not have had if Mitch had not left St. Cloud State and put himself in a predicament a year ago.
Follow Tom Schreier on Twitter @tschreier3