Topeka Pilots forward Austin McCarthy has had a busy summer, leading up to his final season in the North American Hockey League.
McCarthy, of Ludington, Mich., was announced in mid-July as the Pilots’ representative for the Junior Club Hockey World Cup in Sochi, Russia. The tournament, which will take place in late August, will feature one NAHL player from each team, including five veteran players from 1999, including McCarthy.
Then, this past weekend at the Pilots’ main camp in Independence, Mo., McCarthy received more exciting news: he is the 2019-2020 team captain for the Pilots.
Entering his third full season and fourth overall season in Topeka, Pilots head coach Simon Watson saw McCarthy as a natural fit for the role as team captain.
“He’s a guy that is going to take charge and teach our group by example,” Watson said, “and we couldn’t be more excited for him.”
A leader on and off the ice, McCarthy’s accolades are a reward of his hard work, according to Watson.
“This is an exciting time for Austin, and it’s well-deserved for him,” he said. “He’s going to represent our team and our league as well as anyone in Russia and this coming season.”
At 6 feet 190 pounds, McCarthy had his best season in the NAHL last year, netting 13 goals to go along with 24 assists. He was one of the four Pilots to play in all 60 games.
Having played the role of captain at Manistee High School in 2015-2016 during his junior year, McCarthy is no stranger to the spotlight.
Even with that experience, he admitted he was elated when Watson and associate head coach Justin DeMartino announced prior to the main camp he’d be captain.
“It was really exciting for me,” McCarthy said. “There’s a ton of leadership in our group. It’s something I’m really looking forward to and being a part of.”
He attributed the Pilots 2018-2019 team captain Brenden Rons as a huge motivator for him, indicating Rons was a mentor he hopes he replicates for his teammates this season.
“There’s was no better guy to learn from than Rons, that’s for sure,” McCarthy said. “I’ve talked to him a lot about leadership.”
And now looking ahead to the coming season, he said he expects his team to be ready to compete at a high level, with a hopeful playoff push on the horizon.
“I think this year is going to be the best year by far,” McCarthy said. “We have a tight knit group, and a special group of guys. I’m really looking forward it.”
But before his team can kick off the season on Sept. 13, he is hoping to gain valuable experience and lessons from his time in Sochi in a few weeks. The games will all take place on international-sized ice surfaces, meaning there will be extra skating room for players used to NAHL’s regulations.
“It’s the world’s stage, so it’s going to be really competitive and great hockey,” McCarthy said. “It will definitely get me ready for the regular season.”