Forward Mike McCarron is the first to admit he doesn’t know much about the Ontario Hockey League. It's understandable. He grew up in Macomb, Mich., where he was surrounded by college hockey, so the OHL was nothing more than an afterthought.
"I never really grew up an OHL fan," says the 18-year-old. "I was more college."
It wasn’t until his older brother, John, began to look at his junior hockey options that the McCarrons first started investigating the Canadian junior league as an option. Like many American players, John McCarron chose to take the NCAA route. He plays in the NCAA for Cornell, where he will captain the 2013-14 squad for the Big Red.
For Mike, the decision was essentially made for him the moment he signed a three-year entry-level contract with the Montreal Canadiens.
“Once they put the contract in front of my face it was really hard to say no,” says McCarron, who had given verbal commitments to three different NCAA schools. “It wasn’t a tough decision after that.”
The Canadiens drafted the 6-foot-5, 235-pound behemoth in the first round with the 25th pick in the 2013 NHL entry draft. Signing with Montreal meant, however, that he would automatically forgo his NCAA eligibility, leaving him to play with the OHL’s London Knights.
“Before (signing the NHL deal) it was kind of hard because college is kind of big in my family,” says McCarron, who plans on taking courses at the University of Western Ontario in London. “My mom still wants me to get a degree, which I’m still going to work pretty hard to get.”
McCarron had originally been taken in the OHL draft by the Belleville Bulls, but a trade with the Knights sent him to London in June 2012.
The Knights are back-to-back OHL champions and will be looking for their third consecutive title when they open the season on Sept. 20 against the Plymouth Whalers. The Knights will also get an automatic berth in the 2014 Memorial Cup as the host team. As OHL champs they’ve been to the tournament twice in the past two years, but have failed to win junior hockey’s biggest prize.
“I don’t think I would have gone to the OHL if it wasn’t with London,” says McCarron. “They have the best coaches, best management, best place you can play at – obviously with 9,000 fans it’s pretty cool. This year they’ll host the (Memorial Cup) so it was almost like a no-brainer. It’s going to be so special to play there especially considering how many players they move on (to the NHL). ”
The winger says he's most excited about getting prepared for the OHL’s 68-game schedule. He believes the extra grind will help him develop a more consistent game, which he cites as one of the biggest areas for improvement.
“I still need to work on my consistency,” says McCarron, who attended Team USA's summer evaluation camp in Lake Placid, N.Y. “I want to be a force every shift and every period out there and I think that’s going to come playing those extra games in the OHL. I think it’s going to help me.”
It's no surprise that McCarron– with his hulking frame – admits to being a fan of Boston Bruins Milan Lucic. And from the sound of it, he'll fit in perfectly with the Knights.
"I love it," says McCarron of going into the corners. "I love playing dirty and physical."