February 20, 2014
TORONTO- Defencemen Andrew MacWilliam has quickly learned that at the pro level if you’re going to play physical you better look over your shoulder.
Unlike in college, where the 23-year-old spent the last four seasons throwing around his 6-foot-2, 226-pound frame, in the AHL delivering a big hit can sometimes lead to altercations.
“If you’re going to play physical you have to be aware and willing to drop the gloves,” said MacWilliam.
MacWilliam is pegged by Leaf management as a physical, shut-down defender and the Calgary native has developed in that role for 40 games with the Marlies. He has been set up with Korbinian Holzer for much of the season as half of Steve Spott’s go-to pairing and he also plays on the top penalty-killing unit.
Because fighting in college is met with heavy discipline MacWilliam hasn’t regularly dropped the mitts since he was 18 playing junior in Alberta. So with the Marlies having a heavy presence of enforcers he’s done his best to take some tips from the likes of David Broll and Jamie Devane- OHL graduates who came into the AHL known to drop the gloves regularly.
“Little things I wasn’t too aware of before, more strategy,” said MacWilliam about what he’s learned. “When you get into the mix of it, it’s tough to think, but you just keep a couple things in your mind.
“It’s a skill you can’t work on in college. They play tough and came through the ranks in junior so they’re good guys to learn from.”
Devane leads the Marlies with seven fights and Broll is tied with Sam Carrick for second on the team with six. MacWilliam is next with four, and admits he still has some work to do after spending four years wearing a full cage with the University of North Dakota.
“I’ve been okay,” MacWilliam said about the fights he’s been in this season. “I have to get a lot better at that if I want to utilize that in my game.”
Since being drafted in 2008, MacWilliam has been a work-in-progress that Toronto has been patient with. While fighting won’t be what gets him to the next level, in a Randy Carlyle system it never hurts to be able to do so.
He still has some work to do with his skating and stick positioning, according to Spott, but feels his “overall quickness with pucks, and getting back to pucks” is what he’s improved on the most in his short time with the Marlies.
“It was an adjustment playing against men, they are on you right away,” said MacWilliam. “I’ve started to get a little better at that but I have lots to work on.”
In 40 games this season MacWilliam has five assists and 65 penalty minutes.
The Marlies next game is Feb. 22 when they host the San Antonio Rampage.