Elliott: Rookie Mason McTavish scores record goal, an encouraging sign for the Ducks

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Ducks rookie Mason McTavish, center, celebrates with teammates Kevin Shattenkirk and Josh Manson.
Ducks rookie Mason McTavish, center, celebrates with teammates Kevin Shattenkirk and Josh Manson after a 4-1 win over the Winnipeg Jets on Oct. 13 at Honda Center. (Ronald Martinez / Getty Images)

Ducks rookie forward Mason McTavish worked out with the players who had been told they wouldn’t be in the lineup for the Ducks’ season opener against the Winnipeg Jets on Wednesday. His parents, Dale and Christine, and brother Darian had come to town but he gave away his allotted tickets because he didn’t expect to play.

A phone call at around 4 p.m. from coach Dallas Eakins changed his plans. Max Jones had a non-COVID illness and couldn’t play, Eakins told him. Get to the rink.

“I canceled my tickets and then had to get them again for them,” McTavish said of his family. “It was a pretty special moment, though.”

The ticket-acquisition effort was worth it. Demonstrating the fearlessness and nose for the net that had led the Ducks to choose him third in the June entry draft, McTavish became the youngest player to score a goal in franchise history at 18 years and 256 days. His imprint was all over their impressive 4-1 victory over the Jets at Honda Center, an encouraging sign for a team that urgently needs all the size, smarts and goal-scoring talent he and the other kids can bring.

“I couldn’t have dreamed it any better, to be honest,” said McTavish, who was three days younger than Oleg Tverdovsky was when Tverdovsky scored a goal at Dallas on Feb. 1, 1995. “It’s definitely one I’ll never forget.”

McTavish screened Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck on the Ducks’ first goal, scored from a sharp angle by Kevin Shattenkirk, and scored the second goal by pouncing on a loose puck near the right post. Although one referee initially waved off the goal on the basis that the whistle had been blown, the play was reviewed by the NHL situation room and the goal was awarded because it was considered “the culmination of a continuous play where the result was unaffected by the whistle.”

McTavish celebrated heartily but then had to wait for the results of the review. He took it in stride. “I kind of got to score two goals. Celebrated twice, anyway,” said McTavish, who was born in Switzerland while his father played there but represents Canada in international play. “I wasn’t sure what was going to happen, but when they announced the goal, I was pretty fired up.”

His teammates were equally elated after being irate when it appeared the goal might not count. Eakins feared they might be tossed for arguing the call so vehemently.

“It’s one thing to have a goal called back. It’s another one when it’s your 18-year-old first-round pick on his first night who got called in at 4 o’clock,” Eakins said. “I literally was like, ‘Oh no, we’re not going to have enough guys to finish the game’ because they were incensed, and thankfully, good on the referees and situation room, they quickly reviewed that and got it right.”

McTavish also kept the play alive so the Ducks could keep possession on their third goal, earning an assist after he passed it to Cam Fowler for a shot that was deflected into the net by Adam Henrique during a Ducks power play. The Ducks, whose power play last season was a historically bad 8.9%, scored twice with the man advantage on Wednesday, another significant moment. A feisty John Gibson made 33 saves, and his teammates avenged the Jets’ frequent forays into his crease.

But the evening belonged to McTavish and what he represents.

The Ducks have had some prime draft picks during their painfully long rebuilding process, but they haven’t found a game-breaker. One performance, as good as it was, isn’t enough to declare McTavish a star, but his strengths give him a good chance at success in the NHL. His father played nine games with Calgary in the 1996-97 season and collected a goal and three points; Mason could pass that on Friday, when the Ducks face Minnesota at Honda Center.

“I think his style of play, his game, will be able to translate,” Henrique said. “I think the way he plays, he’s not afraid to get in there and just play his game. That’s a thing when you’re a young player. Sometimes when you get here, you get a little nervous and get away from your game and then it goes the other way. I thought he did a great job.”

As Eakins noted, McTavish isn’t a skinny kid who must add muscle and brawn to play in the NHL. He’s a sturdy 6-foot-1 and 207 pounds, strong enough to fend off defenders when he goes to dangerous areas around the net. During training camp, Eakins saw that and consistently saw two traits: grit and competitiveness. “This kid is not afraid to get inside. He is not afraid to go to the net. And he’s got a heavy, heavy shot,” Eakins said.

“And he’s been all-business. Every day, all business. I think I said it a few days ago, a lot of kids come in like that, draft picks, even the high ones, and they take the approach, ‘This is awesome. I’m at NHL camp but I’ve got two years of junior left,’ or whatever and then you go back. But he’s come in with one thing in his head — that he was going to make the hockey team. And hey, he had a great first game and his journey continues.”

McTavish’s teammates presented him with the puck from his goal, but he wasn’t sure what he’d do with it. Probably give it to his parents, he said. They helped him get this far. The rest is up to him, and his debut hinted at happier days ahead for the Ducks.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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