It’s been a whirlwind season for everybody in the hockey world, but if there’s anybody who has made the most of this tumultuous season, it’s former Newfoundland Growler and current member of the Toronto Marlies Mac Hollowell.
Only a year removed from his Newfoundland ECHL experience, Hollowell has since made his first-ever trip outside of North America to play overseas in Finland, returned to Canada to share a house with some of the best players in the world, befriended a future Hall-of-Famer, and still managed to develop his game to within a half-step to the NHL.
Because the Covid-19 pandemic forced a delayed start to the NHL and AHL seasons, Hollowell’s year began in Finland’s second-highest league, Mestis, where he suited up for six games for TUTO Hockey.
“I went to Finland earlier in the offseason just to try to get moving and get some games in,” Hollowell said.
“Going overseas was something I wouldn’t be able to do if it wasn’t for Covid. It was cool to go over to a country like that and experience European hockey and the culture over there. I had never been outside of Canada or the United States so that was cool. It was good for me to get my feet moving. It’s a different style of hockey. It was good to learn that different style and try to bring some things to my own game.”
When the NHL announced its season was going ahead, it was time to return home to Canada to quarantine for 14 days before camp begins.
Not wanting to spend two full weeks alone in a hotel room, Hollowell’s agent made a few phone calls on his behalf and set him up with a dream quarantine scenario.
“I actually stayed at a house with some guys on the Leafs, like Auston Matthews, William Nylander, Rasmus Sandin, and Joe Thornton,” Hollowell said.
“It was a no-brainer. One part was to be able to stay skating before camp, and the other part was to just be around NHL talent like that, world-class athletes, and be able to pick their brains a little bit and see how they go about their daily lives.
We were able to work out together and skate a little bit, because there was an ice rink at the house. That was a cool experience, another experience I wouldn’t have been able to have if it wasn’t for the whole situation going overseas. That was a positive.”
His preseason stay with the Leafs wasn’t his only stop in the NHL this season. Beginning in March, Hollowell has enjoyed multiple stint’s on the Leafs’ Taxi Squad, essentially a group of reserve players who would be next in line to get the call to suit up for the Leafs, should an injury arise.
“I wasn’t too sure if I was going to be on there at all throughout the year,” Hollowell admits.
“Just to get that call and be able to get some more skates in with the guys up there is great for me. Every time I go up I feel more and more confident. Just the more I can get out there and get my feet wet with them is definitely great for my development.”
Extra time in the NHL means he has had ample opportunity to maintain those friendships he built with the Leafs’ top players during their quarantine earlier in the season. Hollowell admits he now calls these guys friends and remains in contact with them today.
But the individual he may be closest with is also perhaps the most unlikely.
Perrenial NHL all-star, veteran of almost 1700 NHL games, and surefire Hockey Hall-of-Famer Joe Thornton seemingly took the 22-year-old Hollowell under his wing during his stints with the big club and Hollowell is thankful to have a new friend in the hulking Leafs legend.
“He’s just a really welcoming guy and was always keeping me involved and keeping me in the loop,” Hollowell said of Thornton.
“When I was up there (with the Leafs), he was the guy to take me to the back of the plane and let me hang out with the boys. That was huge. He just likes to keep things loose and calm. I tend to overthink things sometimes so he keeps me loose and feeling good. That was good to have.”
In speaking to the media when the story broke of their blossoming bromance, Thornton called Hollowell a ‘super kid’ and explained how each has been trying to educate the other on their musical preferences.
While Hollowell admits he has tried Thornton’s recommendations, like The Doors and Jimi Hendrix, he’s not certain they’re going to make it into his everyday rotation.
“Yeah, he definitely put some music on my radar, but I don’t know if much of it made it into my playlists,” Hollowell said with a laugh.
“I’m definitely enjoying it, it’s good music. Definitely good to open your eyes to different things.”
So much has happened since Hollowell last suited up for the Growlers to begin his pro career and just because he’s now rubbing shoulders with some of the best players in the world doesn’t mean he has forgotten where he started his professional career.
“I was able to come (to Newfoundland) in my first year after leaving junior and able to play bigger minutes than I would have been with the Marlies at the start of the year with the amount of bodies they had,” Hollowell said.
“I think it was good for me development-wise to be able to play power play and play big minutes, all while playing at a professional level and being able to get more comfortable at this level and seeing the different playing styles.”
Hollowell only spent 19 games in the black, white, and gold, but 13 of those games he played in St. John’s at Mile One Centre. He has nothing but fond memories of his short stint on the Rock, but he admits he will never forget the city and the people that made his first games of professional hockey so special.
“It was such a nice city,” he said of St. John’s.
“Being downtown, there was always a lot to do, whether it was hanging out with teammates, or going to restaurants down by the water. The fans were great. It kind of reminded me of Sault Ste Marie a little bit, it’s a smaller city where everybody really loves their hockey. I loved it there. The people were great to me. I remember, one time when me and my roommate Joe Duszak went out to get groceries. We were going to walk our cart back to our place because we didn’t know how we were going to get back with our groceries, and people who didn’t even know who we were offered to drive us back with our groceries, just to make it easier for us. That showed us how great the people are there and how great the city is.”