The story is well known among many Capitals fans by now. In true Ruthian style, Capitals prospect Connor McMichael called it. On the biggest stage of his career, he pointed to the fences and delivered. It wasn’t the first time, and it surely won’t be the last. But it’s that kind of confidence that makes you have to love this kid.
Before Team Canada went out for their first shift of the World Junior semifinal game in January, McMichael had a message for linemate Ty Dellandrea.
“He said, ‘Just get me the puck in the high slot and I’m going to introduce myself to the back bar,'” Dellandrea revealed after the game. “And that’s what he did. He called it.”
The goal, 1:48 into the game, set the tone as Team Canada cruised to a 5-0 victory against Finland.
🇨🇦 gets on the board first! Connor McMichael finds mesh and Canada takes an early 1-0 lead over Finland. pic.twitter.com/0xdf01dITz
— TSN (@TSN_Sports) January 4, 2020
“It all started in practice,” McMichael explained to TSN this week. “I did that once with him in practice and it worked so I was thinking, ‘Why not try it again?’ Just saying stuff like that will loosen us up before big games. You want to take it serious, but you also don’t want to have too many nerves, so I think that was just calming the nerves and, obviously, it worked.”
McMichael’s level of confidence is a key part of what makes him a cut above and a joy to watch.
McMichael spoke with TSN via Zoom this week from London, Ont. and explained what makes his shot so lethal. He also shared what he learned from watching Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom up close at Capitals camp. The following is an edited transcript of the conversation.
Being around Ovechkin during Capitals training camp, what do you notice about his shot?
“Everything. His shot is so hard, it’s so accurate, it comes off his stick so quick. Honestly, in practice I was in love with just watching him shoot the puck and after practice he’d be taking some one-timers and I’d be able to stop and stare and it was pretty cool being around him. I try to pick little things from everyone, but there’s not much I can pick from his game, because he’s unbelievable.”
Do you notice anything different about Ovechkin seeing him up close?
“He’s a lot bigger in person. He’s big on TV, but then you see him in person and he’s just a beast. The way he uses his body and everything, he’s just an all-around great player. I was kind of shocked about how thick and how big he was.”
There’s so much great offensive talent in the Capitals organization for you to learn from and be a sponge around. What stood out to you about Backstrom?
“Just how smart he is, his hockey sense. He’s not the biggest guy, but he’s able to get around just using his hockey sense and his stick and that’s kind of the game I play. I’m not the biggest guy, but I feel like I have great hockey sense and a good stick so I’m trying to pick a lot of things from his game. He’s just so responsible and all the coaches trust him, so that’s kind of the game I’m leaning towards and he’s a great role model.”
What are you doing these days to stay in shape?
“I’ve been working out six times a week, skating every day and just trying to get back into the game. I miss it a lot so I’m excited to get going. I feel like time is going by slower and slower the closer we get.”
Capitals assistant GM Ross Mahoney recently said he’s curious to see the gains you made strength-wise. How much stronger do you feel now versus the end of last season?
“I’ve gotten a lot stronger. I mean, it’s been a longer off-season than usual, so I’ve had more time to gain muscle and strength so, yeah, I’m looking forward to Capitals camp and hopefully showing that I’ve improved a lot.”
Where do you feel the gains most?
“I feel like I’ve gotten a lot stronger in my lower body. I feel like my strides might be more powerful and then in the corner and below the goal line when the D is pushing me off I feel like I can battle back a little bit stronger. I just feel like I’m ready to play against full-grown men.”
The World Juniors will be played in a bubble in Edmonton. You were inside the NHL bubble in Toronto with the Capitals. What stood out about that experience?
“The coolest part was just being around every single team and the activities all the players could do off the ice together. They go to battle, but off the ice they’re all hanging out playing some lawn games or whatever it was, so I thought that was pretty cool. It was just a hockey community, so it was cool to be around all those guys. And obviously just watching them play playoff hockey was amazing.”
We are two months from Canada’s first game at the World Juniors. What sort of challenge would it be if the World Juniors are your first games since March?
“I haven’t played a game since March so just hopping into the fire will be tough. But we got a couple exhibition games together to get ramped up, so we’ll have to take those pretty seriously … it’ll be a little bit difficult, but I think we have the group of guys able to get it done.”
So, what makes your shot so good?
“I work on my shot a lot. I use a little more deception in my hands to fool goalies and maybe look one way and shoot the other way. I watch some NHL clips with our coaching staff here in London and they show me the best goal scorers in the League and how they do it, so I try and pick apart every player and use that. I think it’s mostly your hand placement or your eye placement, you got to try and fool goalies.”
McMichael continues to idle along with many other Capitals players and prospects, waiting for direction and his next step. However, one thing is certain, McMichael will return to Team Canada for this year’s World Junior Championship in December and Capitals Nation can’t wait to watch.
By Jon Sorensen