SASKATOON - Halifax Mooseheads golden boy Nathan MacKinnon was named the most valuable player at the 2013 MasterCard Memorial Cup on Sunday, raising Nova Scotian hopes for another homegrown hockey phenom.
MacKinnon capped off the tournament with a hat trick in the final, nailing down a 6-4 victory by flipping a loose puck into an empty net with 22 seconds left in the third period. It was his second three-goal game of the tournament, both against the demoralized Portland Winterhawks.
"It's pretty cool," said MacKinnon. "The feeling would be the same whether I had one point, no points or five points tonight."
MacKinnon hails from the town of Cole Harbour, N.S., which few Canadians had heard of before the meteoric rise of superstar Sidney Crosby. The two attended the same high school, Shattuck-St. Mary's Academy and both are five-foot-11 centres.
But MacKinnon says there really is no comparison.
"He's in a class of his own for sure," said MacKinnon. "He's the best in the world."
At 17-years-old, MacKinnon is already a veteran of the Canadian world junior team and a Quebec Major Junior Hockey League champion. After being selected first overall in the 2011 QMJHL draft, he's heading into the NHL draft on June 30 as the second-ranked North American skater by NHL Central Scouting.
Graham MacKinnon, a Canadian National Railway worker with a thick red beard, said his son honed his skills the old fashioned way: playing shinny.
"We live on a small lake, and in the wintertime I used to flood it every day," said the older MacKinnon. "He was always out shooting pucks down on the lake.
"He was just always competing hard, and just loved the game."
Starting when Nathan was seven, the MacKinnon's billeted Mooseheads players Frederick Cabana, who went on to play professional hockey in Germany.
"He was with us for two or three years and I got to know him pretty well," said Nathan MacKinnon. "Being a kid I idolized him, and always wanted to get to this moment."
MacKinnon's mother Kathy said he showed a precocious knack for sports, displaying remarkable hand-eye co-ordination and agility from an early age.
"He walked early, and always had a stick or basketball bat or golf club or hockey stick the minute he could walk," said Kathy Mackinnon.
While he had a clear love for hockey, Kathy said he also showed a talent for canoe racing, basketball, soccer and tennis.
"I knew there was no question he'd play sports," she said. "We just didn't know what sport it would be."
Graham MacKinnon said the whole family is trying hard to stay grounded in the face of a deluge of wealth and fame with the NHL draft quickly approaching.
"We live in the moment and take it day by day you know, honestly, and he does the same thing" he said. "You never want to get too far ahead of yourself, and that's what we try to preach to him too."
As for the comparisons to Crosby, Graham MacKinnon said these are pretty superficial.
"They're two different players from the same area, that's just about it," he said.