Carson MacKinnon will remain in Prince Edward Island this fall after playing hockey away from home for most of the past seven seasons.
The 20-year-old Summerside native has committed to playing for the UPEI Panthers of the Atlantic University Sport (AUS) conference next season.
“UPEI was a team I kind of grew up watching, going to their games on weekends,” MacKinnon said. “There’s been a lot of good players go through the program and having nationals coming up this season will definitely make for an exciting year.”
Panthers’ head coach Forbes MacPherson said MacKinnon has a wealth of major junior experience. He is an intelligent player who skates well and can play up and down the lineup.
“He brings a lot to the table,” MacPherson said. “We have a relationship with his family, and (he's) somebody that I targeted very early and was very active with.”
MacKinnon’s older brother, Ryan, played three seasons with the Panthers (2015-16 to 2017-18) before turning pro. He played with the Worcester Railers of the ECHL this season.
The MacKinnon brothers’ hockey careers have had a similar path.
Both grew up playing in Summerside before going to Notre Dame in Wilcox, Sask. They played the majority of their junior careers with the Rimouski Oceanic of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) before playing in different spots in their final junior seasons.
Ryan was the captain for the Charlottetown Islanders while Carson spent the first half of 2019-20 with the QMJHL’s Gatineau Olympiques before finishing the season with the Summerside D. Alex MacDonald Ford Western Capitals of the Maritime Junior Hockey League.
“I kind of have been following my brother’s footsteps since I left for Notre Dame,” said Carson, who hopes the trend continues. “Get in there, get a degree and then go experience pro hockey.”
While they play different positions – Ryan is a defenceman and Carson is a forward – there are similar characteristics between the mature young men.
“They do carry themselves very similarly as people,” MacPherson said. “When you’re recruiting Carson, and you’re having discussions with him, you really get a feel that you’re sitting across from a very similar person.”
Carson – who, like Ryan, will study business at UPEI – said the brothers speak daily.
“I go to him for a lot of advice, and having him go through the program for the years that he did, definitely made my decision a little bit easier,” he said.
Carson left major junior in January to join the Capitals for what was hoped would be a long, prosperous playoff run. But the run ended before it started, as the league cancelled the post-season due to the coronavirus (COVID-19 strain).
“We had a very, very strong team and it was definitely disappointing to see it how it ended,” Carson said. “I don't think anyone could ever had imagined it ending in that way.”
Now Carson will started getting ready for the next chapter of his hockey career.
There is always a transition period as players jump from junior to university hockey. The players are bigger and the game is faster, but MacPherson said Carson’s speed and hockey IQ should help him make the move smoother.
“He can help us in different areas, so while he’s adjusting, he can be contributing in other ways,” he said.
The Panthers are losing goalie Simon Hofley and defenceman Bobby Zinkan, plus forwards Chad Labelle, Nathan Yetman and Riley Whittingham from this year’s roster. UPEI already has six players committed for next season with MacKinnon being the first one the Panthers have publicly announced.
They are still talking to other players, but there is a lot of uncertainty right now due to the coronavirus. Players can’t make recruitment trips to universities, and nobody knows what pro hockey will look like in 2020-21.
“There’s so many questions, and nobody has the answers,” MacPherson said.
Need to know
Who – A 20-year-old Summerside native who finished his junior career earlier this month with the Summerside D. Alex MacDonald Ford Western Capitals junior A squad. He also played 4 ½ seasons in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL).
The latest – Recently committed to the UPEI Panthers.
Parents – John and Mona MacKinnon.
Height, weight, position – Six-foot-, 175-pound centre.
Season GP G A Pts.
2015-16 65 7 7 14
2016-17 65 13 14 27
2017-18 65 13 22 35
2018-19 68 16 30 46
2019-20 39 6 26 32
2019-20 16 23 14 37