Johnson: MacDonald proving Flames should renew his contract for 2013-14
Goalie has been a steadying presence amidst team’s rebuild
Joey MacDonald may not grace the cover of any Hockey Who’s Who compendium, even if he has made the cut of Wikipedia’s list of notable Pictonians — people born in or longtime residents of Pictou, N.S., pop. 3,437. He’s alongside Rudolph Grohmann, designer in 1957 of the award-winning Canadian Belt Knife, early 20th century stage actress and singer Christine MacDonald and civil engineer Peter Crerar, who built the Albion Mines Railway, the first standard gauge railroad in North America.
At age 33, though, MacDonald is making a name for himself here, 4,700 kilometres west of Pictou as the crow flies, too.
A pending UFA on July 1st, waiver-wire Joey is proving he deserves another shot, another contract, regardless of how the Calgary Flames’ in-transit goaltending equation shakes down by September.
In the breathlessly short span of two months, since being claimed from Detroit on February 11th, he’s resurrected a largely indifferent career that, truth to tell, seemed to have become more obsolete than VHS tapes. Even to him.
Through a season fairly teeming with disappointment, MacDonald has been the most pleasant surprise down at the Scotiabank Saddledome. Hands down. The numbers can be interpreted as serviceable to good, (7-6-1, .903 save percentage, 2.84 GAA) if not all golly-gosh whiz-bang spectacular.
But, well, you needn’t be reminded that he ain’t exactly backstopping the ’76 Canadiens or ’85 Oilers, either.
Too often, the Flames’ defensive-zone coverage has shown all the tight cohesion of the running of the bulls at Pamplona or the fluid flexibility of a set of lampposts lining a dimly-lit street in the suburbs.
Joey MacDonald long ago showed he’s got the stout-hearted sidekick role — patient, supportive, self-effacing, self-sacrificing — down pat. But he’s proving now that, given the right circumstances, he can, for the short term anyway, be a leading man, too. Cue the close-up, Mr. DeMille.
It’s virtually impossible not to take a shine to Joey MacDonald, an easygoing Maritimer. He likes to talk, even the morning of starts, which makes him quirky even in the eccentric-to-bizarre world of big-league puck-stoppers.
“It’s great to get an opportunity to play, especially in an organization that’s relied on one guy for so long and to come in an do ... fairly well,” said MacDonald, eight or so hours before making his third consecutive start, Monday night against playoff-desperate Minnesota Wild.
“The last couple of weeks we’ve had a lot of young guys come into the lineup. I like it. There’s a lot of energy in the room. You can feel it. It’s no fun not being in a playoff spot but guys are working their tails off.
“Not playing for 11 months and then my back and then the couple weeks it took until I started feeling comfortable, it was tough. Now I feel great. I think my game is, right now, as good as its been in the NHL for a long time.”
Needless to add, he’s taking nothing for granted. That is a lesson that
“It’s kinda been like that my whole career,” he mused. “No. 2 or No. 3 guy, up and down, up and down. You just gotta keep working hard. You can’t get discouraged. You can’t let your head drop.
“When you’re in the minors, you want to prove you’re good enough to play at the NHL level. And when you get here, you want to prove you belong; that you deserve to stay.
“And this year, you know what?, I think I have proven to a lot of people that ‘Hey, this guy can be a No. 2’ or whatever in the NHL.”
Consider: No goaltender other than Miikka Kiprusoff has won more than four games in a season since Jamie MacLennan pieced together 12 back in 2003-2004, the year the flexible Finn arrived from San Jose and ushered in the greatest goaltending era this town has yet witnessed.
Since then, there’s been a lengthy line of caddies found wanting — Brian Boucher, MacLennan, Curtis Joseph, Curtis McIlhenney, Karlsson, Leland Irving, Dany Sabourin, Vesa Toskala, the immortal Matt Keetley. Unforeseen circumstances — read: Kiprusoff’s knee injury — certainly aided and abetted the distinction, but of the lot, waiver-wire Joey has arguably been the best.
And with the 36-year-old Kiprusoff leaning toward retirement, the calming presence of a MacDonald as support system or emergency replacement for, say, a Karri Ramo fresh out of the KHL makes a lot of sense.
“I don’t know what they’re gonna do. I’ve seen a lot of guys come over from those leagues. But you know what, it’s tough to play in the NHL, from the K, from Swiss. I’ve been around, I’ve got 120 starts or whatever in the National Hockey League under my belt. And the way my game is right now, this is the best I’ve felt in a long time.
“We’ve got seven games left. I want to finish up on a positive note. I want to make their decision as tough as I can. I want to take these last few games and show them that I want to be here.
“Like I said, it’s great that they’re giving me an opportunity to play. It’s been like a tryout for next year. I’d love to be in their plans. I love it in Calgary. I do. The last two or three months have been awesome.
“I’d love to stay here, be here. That’s my wish. But if not here then be part of the NHL.
“Somewhere . . .”
Why on earth shouldn’t Somewhere be here?
No, Joey MacDonald may not grace the cover of any Hockey Who’s Who compendium.
But for what he’s done since arriving mid-February, give the man his due. And, while you’re at it, Jay Feaster, give him another shot, too. It’s been earned.
George Johnson is the Herald’s sports columnist. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow George Johnson on Twitter/GeorgejohnsonCH
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