MacTavish returns home from NCAA to join Griffins

Sean MacTavish spent the past two seasons at the University of Alaska-Anchorage, but he is eager to play at home for the MacEwan University Griffins in 2017-18.
Sean MacTavish spent the past two seasons at the University of Alaska-Anchorage, but he is eager to play at home for the MacEwan University Griffins in 2017-18.

Jefferson Hagen / MacEwan Athletics

A decade ago, they were coach and pupil on the Canadian Athletic Club Bantam AAA Canadians.

On Tuesday, MacEwan University men's hockey head coach Bram Stephen announced the reunion: Sean MacTavish is returning to Edmonton to play for the Griffins this fall.

"I've known him since he was a younger kid playing bantam hockey," said Stephen of MacTavish's 2007-2009 stint on the Canadians. "I was able to coach him for two years then. Great young man. Very charismatic. His teammates are drawn to him. He's going to be great for our dressing room. He's a great player.

"It was a learning experience for me at that age. I was a young coach and thankfully enough we have a good enough relationship that I didn't mess it up too bad. I'm real excited to have him in our program for next year."

MacTavish spent the past two seasons at NCAA Div. 1 University of Alaska-Anchorage, recording eight points in 40 games with limited ice time. He's looking forward to the opportunity to play more at the ACAC level.

"The coaching staff have done really well here and obviously things didn't work out really well in Anchorage for me," he said. "It was kind of a tough situation with the hockey. We had lots of guys and I just wasn't playing enough. It was time for me to come home."

Sean, who is the son of Edmonton Oilers Vice-President of Hockey Operations Craig MacTavish, will be playing and practicing in the same facility where his father works, as the Griffins play out of the Downtown Community Arena, attached to Rogers Place.

"I was actually in my dad's office the other day and it just looks right over top of the rink," he said. "So he'll be able to give me a lot of feedback on what I need to do, whether it's practices or games.

"He'll just be hawk-eying me out there, for sure," he added with a chuckle. "He's always been able to give good input. He knows the game well."

Sean MacTavish is the fourth member of the Griffins with an NHL-playing father. Nolan and Austin Yaremchuk's dad Ken played 266 NHL games in the '80s with Chicago and Toronto. And Cam Gotaas' father Steve played 52 NHL games between 1987 and 1991 with Pittsburgh and Minnesota.

"It starts at a young age, so you don't know (any different)," he said of being the son of Craig MacTavish, who won three Stanley Cups with the Oilers and another with the New York Rangers in 17 NHL seasons before coaching and executive roles. "For me, I haven't really had to evolve to anything, because he played when he was younger, so I've been his kid. I haven't had to change how I've been.

"Obviously, it's got its benefits for sure. It's very cool to have your dad work for the local NHL team. But it's stressful, too. When the team's not winning, it's not just him who gets the pressure, it's the whole family. But it's great."

On the Griffins, MacTavish will not only be reuniting with Stephen, he will also be joining former Sherwood Park Crusaders (AJHL) teammate and good friend Daniel Wray, who just wrapped up his second season with MacEwan.

"Daniel Wray and him are really good friends, so Daniel was able to help sway him a little bit," said Stephen of recruiting MacTavish. "I think he wanted an education in Canada, wanted to come home and be close to family and friends. We're happy to have him."

The reunion has all kinds of potential. The last time a player returned from NCAA Div. 1 hockey to play for the MacEwan Griffins, it worked out pretty well.

David Way spent a season at the University of Alabama-Huntsville before joining MacEwan in 2012. He proceeded to record 91 points over four seasons for the Griffins from 2012 to 2016 and finished as a finalist for the University's male athlete of the year award in his senior campaign.

"When you watch an NCAA Div. 1 game, the speed is faster as far as playmaking," said Stephen, noting players who come out of that level are often around a point a game in the ACAC. "It's usually a bit more free-flowing, but at the same time has structure.

"He's used to playing a higher-paced game. So that should help us, for sure. That's our style of play anyways. He should fit in well."

MacTavish is the second player announced in Stephen's 2017-18 recruiting class, joining defenceman Jake Kohlhauser, who is also returning home after 79 games in the WHL before finishing his junior career in Powell River (BCHL).