Mitch McLain is the Western Collegiate Hockey Association’s leading scorer.
But there’s far more to the Bowling Green junior than scoring goals and setting up goals.
Instead, the center is one of the Falcons’ most complete players.
The 6-foot. 190-pounder is just as likely to win a faceoff, block a shot, kill a penalty or win a physical battle along the boards or in front of the net.
McLain’s play is one of the reasons BG is 7-1-1 in its last nine games overall and 5-0-1 in its last six league games. The Falcons have overcome a slow start to improve to 7-7-2, 6-3-1-1 entering this weekend’s WCHA series at Lake Superior (7-7, 4-6).
“I’ve always tried to play a well-rounded game,” McLain said. “You want to be on the ice as much as possible. When you’re not scoring, there are other ways to contribute. I learned that my first two years (at BG). When you’re going through a slump, being able to kill penalties or playing physical are things that can get you in the lineup every week.”
McLain was a scorer at Brainerd (Minnesota) High School and with Langley in the British Columbia (Junior) Hockey League before coming to BG. He then totaled 18 goals and 18 assists in 80 games during his freshman and sophomore seasons with the Falcons.
He had 43 goals and 61 assists in 125 games with Langley after collecting 90 goals and 77 assists in 103 games with Brainerd.
McLain has been on one of BG top three lines since Day 1, and has skated on the power-play and penalty-killing units. He’s fun to watch because he can score with speed and skill or by simply running over an opponent on his way to the net.
He’s only missed two games in his career, one as a freshman and this season’s Oct. 7 opener at Bemidji State, the result of a game-disqualification penalty for fighting against Windsor Oct. 1 during BG’s annual Canadian exhibition contest.
“He’s always had a pretty good opportunity here, but you don’t always get offensive confidence because you’ve had a pretty good opportunity,” BG coach Chris Bergeron said. “He’s worked hard and prepared properly to feel confident about his offensive game.
“It’s a confidence thing, but I also think it’s an expectation level he has of himself that he should be contributing and is capable of contributing offensively,” Bergeron added. “He’s doing it so far.”
Now, he’s one of the top scorers in the WCHA. His seven goals are good for a three-way tie for third-most in the league, and his 10 assists are good for a two-way tie for second-most in the league.
He and linemate Tyler Spezia, a junior left wing, have clicked since coming to BG. Spezia has four goals and eight assists in 16 games this season.
“I’ve expected to contribute offensively every year I’ve been here,” McLain said. “It’s one of those things right now where I’m getting the bounces, and guys are making plays. It’s really fun right now.”
McLain also leads the league in plus-minus with an on-ice rating of +11. He also has won 53.5 percent of his 327 faceoffs, blocked eight shots and is usually first over the boards with Spezia on the penalty-killing unit.
“I’m really confident right now,” McLain said. “I feel comfortable who I’m playing with and what’s going on, and the direction the team is headed.”
As well as McLain played his first two seasons, he’s been even better and even more consistent this season. He’s one of BG’s leaders on and the off the ice, and probably will be a captain next season.
“Mitchell McLain on his best day and Mitchell McLain on his bad day are pretty close. That’s a compliment,” Bergeron said. “That’s not saying his best day isn’t good enough. His best day is pretty darn good and his worst day is not that bad. It’s something he’s worked through. Like anybody else, we expect juniors to step into that as an upperclassmen.
“It’s something he’s managed, and it’s something expects from himself,” Bergeron added. “I expect my best day and my worst day to be pretty close, and I also expect to contribute offensively, especially with the opportunity I’m getting. That’s him talking and that’s a good thing, when that onus is taken on by the player.”
McLain came to BG after being a three-sport star at Brainerd. He was an all-league quarterback in football and an all-conference shortstop in baseball. He also had college scholarship offers in football and baseball, including football with FCS power North Dakota State.
McLain said playing football helped him with his leadership skills and enabled him to bring a football mentality/physical presence to the ice. He said baseball helped him improve his hand/eye coordination.
“My goal going growing up was always to play (NCAA Division I hockey),” McLain said. “I knew I wanted to play college hockey, even when I was young. But football and baseball gave me a break from hockey, something refreshing. It was just a lot of fun playing multiple sports.”
McLain also is faring well academically. He has a 3.6 grade-point average with a major in special education/intervention specialist. He’s student teaching at Wood Lane School in BG this semester. Wood Lane provides educational opportunities to children and adults who have developmental disabilities.
McLain, whose goal is to become a teacher and a coach, hopes to have his own intervention specialist charity that has to do with sports and special needs. He became interested in special education when he was in Brainerd.
McLain took a high school class about social skills that included children with autism and served as a volunteer with the Special Olympics hockey program in Langley.
“I really enjoyed that class and then I really enjoyed volunteering with the Special Olympics in Langley,” McLain said. “It’s just something I’ve always enjoyed and always enjoyed being involved in.”