By Matt Mackinder -
It’s rare that 14th-round draft picks amount to anything in the Ontario Hockey League, but for Plymouth Whalers’ defenseman Colin MacDonald, he is the exception to the rule.
Drafted with the 270th overall selection in the 2008 OHL draft (and 13 rounds after the Whalers took a young prodigy named Tyler Seguin), MacDonald has quietly become one of the OHL’s most consistent shutdown defenders and was named Plymouth’s captain this season.
Not bad for a player passed over by team after team four years ago.
“When I found out I was named captain, it was after practice and coach (Mike Vellucci) pulled everyone together and named me captain then all the assistants,” said MacDonald, a 20-year-old native of London, Ont. “I was really excited when I found out. I think it’s something that everyone wants to be when you’re playing a team sport and I was privileged enough to have the coaches name me it. It wasn’t something I expected, but it was definitely a responsibility that I wanted to have.”
“He brings work ethic, maturity and leadership off the ice and on the ice, he’s just steady,” Vellucci said. “He’s one of those guys you can always count on. He understands how to play the game.”
MacDonald served as an assistant captain last season. The assistants this season are forwards and first-round NHL draft picks Stefan Noesen and Tom Wilson, along with defenseman Connor Carrick.
For MacDonald, wearing the ‘C’ is certainly about responsibility, but also an honor.
“There are many names that stand out (as past captains of the Plymouth franchise), but a couple that really do is a guy like Chris Terry, who Coach talks about a lot and how great of a leader he was (Terry won the inaugural Mickey Renaud Captain’s Award in 2009). Then there are others like James Wisniewski and Jamie Allison who continued on to the NHL and had, or still have in Wisniewski’s case, great careers.”
MacDonald called his leadership approach “professional” and attributed that to how he has developed in his years with the Whalers.
“When I am at the rink, I am there to work,” MacDonald said. “I still like having fun, but when it comes to before games or in practice, I expect a lot out of myself and work my hardest. My assistants are great, but having a letter doesn’t mean anything if we don’t lead the team and provide a good example for the younger guys. We have a large leadership group and everyone chips in and that is what will take our team far, having everyone chip in.”
Looking back on his three prior years with the Whalers, MacDonald realizes he has improved tremendously, but also has work to do if he wants to continue playing competitively past this season.
“I have always been a defensive guy, but now being able to play against the top lines in the league is something I have worked at and take pride in,” MacDonald said. “I’ve also learned a lot off the ice and matured a lot in my time here which is huge. This season is huge for me and my future. I think every overager comes into the year hoping to get an NHL contract if they don’t have one already and make it to that next level, so that is my hope and what I am working for this year.”
The Whalers received a major boost recently when defenseman Austin Levi, who played on a defense pair with MacDonald last season, returned to Plymouth for his overage season on assignment from the Carolina Hurricanes.
For MacDonald, the Whalers’ addition of Levi has many perks.
“It’s really nice to have Levi back because he is one of my best friends and it’s always great having someone like that around, not only as a friend, but he’s a great hockey player and adds a lot of depth for our team on the back end,” explained MacDonald. “We have been on the ice together, but we have plenty of ‘D’ and throughout the game we get paired with almost everyone so we never really have set pairings as it depends on the situation.”
Having a championship-caliber team every season is something MacDonald has experienced since his rookie season of 2009-10 and going out on top would be a perfect capper to his OHL career.
“My expectations for the rest of the year are for our team to turn it around,” said MacDonald. “We have had a rough start and it has been a learning lesson for a lot of the guys that you have to show up every game and play 60 minutes in this league to win games. I expect us to do a lot better than what our record shows at the moment and hopefully, go on and win a championship. This is my final chance, so that is the ultimate goal for this year and I think we have the team to do it this year.”