DRACUT -- What a wonderful whirlwind of hockey it has been for Dracut's Johnathan MacLeod over the past two and a half months.
Wow, where to begin?
On April 27 in Finland, MacLeod played an important role in the United States winning the International Ice Hockey Federation Under-18 World Championship.
"To have won that with such a close-knit group (which included Chelmsford's Jack Eichel), it was wonderful," said MacLeod. "That's what we worked hard toward for two years. We weren't going to be happy with silver medals."
His hockey dreams kept coming true. On June 28, MacLeod, a 6-foot-2, 200-pound defenseman, was chosen in the second round of the NHL Draft (57th pick overall) by the Tampa Bay Lightning.
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MacLeod was at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, where the draft was held, to hear his name called on the second day. He pulled on a Lightning jersey to smile for the cameras.
Recalling his wait to be picked, MacLeod said, "You're just sitting there. You feel anxious. You start to sweat a little bit. It's an amazing feeling to see some of your friends and buddies and teammates get drafted. But then you kind of wonder when you're going to get picked."
Four days after being picked, MacLeod was at the Lightning's Development Camp in Tampa with other top prospects, several who have played professionally. MacLeod is already applying new skating techniques he learned there.
"It's pro hockey, so they do things the right way," said MacLeod.
And from Tampa, MacLeod went straight to Boston University, where this summer he is taking two classes --history of Boston and introduction to finance --and lifting weights every morning at 6:30 in anticipation of taking on Hockey East as an 18-year-old this coming season. (MacLeod turned 18 on June 2. These days, the average age of a college hockey freshman is 20.)
Whew. Now that is certainly a lot for any kid who learned to skate at the Dracut Ice Hut to digest.
But MacLeod looks ever forward to what certainly looks to be many more hockey whirlwinds to come.
"I still have to go to BU and perform well there," he said. "Nothing is set yet. I think it's going to be a good challenge to be playing against a lot of older kids night in and night out. It's a good test. It'll be good for my development. I think I handled myself pretty well when we played our 16 college games last year with the (National Team Development Program)."
Besides, MacLeod's most spirited one-on-one hockey battles growing up in Dracut were against a player three years older than him. He went at it in the driveway, in the street and on any open patch of ice with his older brother Chris, who played junior varsity hockey at Salisbury School, and is now headed into his senior year of studies at St. Lawrence University.
Johnathan was a BU hockey fan. Chris liked Boston College. Their own personal Beanpot was decided in their driveway.
"He's not as big as I am, and it kind of bugged him a little bit," said MacLeod with a laugh. "When we would go at it, it was pretty 50/50, and because I was the younger brother, he didn't like that."
Those brotherly battles perhaps shaped MacLeod's hockey identity. He is a physical no-nonsense, no-budge defenseman, a role he began to embrace as a freshman at Kimball Union Academy in 2011-12, which is when BU offered him a scholarship.
"Growing up I was more of an offensive player, and could score goals and rush the puck," said MacLeod. "I was always a bigger kid for my age. So once I went to Kimball Union, I started to play a little bit more physical. I had a couple of rushes here and there, but nothing crazy. I just wanted to embrace that role (of defensive defenseman) and I think it's helped me get to the point I am right now."
Mark and Susan MacLeod's younger son spent the last two years with the National Team Development Program (NTDP) in Ann Arbor, Mich. Now, as MacLeod prepares to play at BU, both the Lightning and Terriers coaching staffs have offered him the same advice: "Work on skating and agility, but also get stronger. Especially for the style I want to play, I need to be that big strong guy."
MacLeod's roommate at BU is Chelmsford's Eichel, who turns 18 on Oct. 28 and is projected to be the first or second overall pick in next year's NHL draft. Eichel, a center, is already talked about as the best U.S. prospect ever.
"He's a great buddy of mine, and somebody I look to as a role model," said MacLeod. "When he's in the weight room, it's all about business. When he's on the ice, he doesn't accept losing. He's the player he is today because of his work ethic and the type of kid he is. I'm excited to have a future with him (at BU). It will be fun."
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